I had a Snowy Owl at Montrose this morning, February 17. This is the first Snowy Owl I’ve seen at Montrose in several weeks, my last sighting being January 21 (see the post below). The bird was at the end of the fishing pier, the first place you should look for Snowies if you visit Montrose to look for them. While I was watching the Snowy, an adventurous (foolish, really) young man walked all the way to the end of the pier and flushed the bird a couple times. Most of the pier is still covered in ice and snow and most definitely treacherous to walk on; a person could easily end up going for a swim in Lake Michigan if not careful. The only other birds of interest I saw this a.m. were a White-throated Sparrow and a Swamp Sparrow, both feeding with House Sparrows near the main entrance to the sanctuary.
This continues to be a banner winter for Snowy Owls along the Chicago lakefront. This morning, January 21, I had 2 Snowies at Montrose, both at the east end of the beach. One bird was on the fishing pier and the other was on the ice shelves on the beach. Despite the warmup we’re currently experiencing, the fishing pier still has ice in places; if you venture onto it be careful or you could end up in the lake.
A lone Snowy Owl was still at Montrose this morning, March 21. This bird, probably an immature female based on the heavy and extensive barring, was resting on the ice inside the fishhook pier.
Other birds seen at Montrose this a.m. include several White-winged Scoters on the lake and inside the harbor, 4 northbound Northern Pintails, Greater and Lesser Scaup and Redheads inside the harbor, and 2 or 3 Horned Grebes inside the harbor. I did not see the Red-necked Grebe.
I had 3 Snowy Owls this morning, March 20, all on the shelf ice at the east end of the beach. I guess they had to come back eventually. All 3 birds were heavily marked and probably immature. Also, they were all very close to each other on the beach, probably within a hundred yard span together.
I walked around Montrose on Saturday morning, February 8 for a little while. I didn’t see anything unexpected but I did find a putative Snowy Owl pellet on the revetment just south of the beach. It’s about 3.5 inches long and 1.5 inches wide and looks like the remains of a small mammal, perhaps a rat. I’m assuming it’s from a Snowy Owl based on the size of the bolus, the location, and the fact that so many Snowy Owls have been around. The specimen will be donated to the Field Museum.
Followup: Field Museum biologist Josh Engel determined that the remains are from a scaup.
My birding highlight today was undoubtedly the pale and minimally marked Snowy Owl I saw at the beach. The bird was roosting on top of a “snow dune” in the western panne when I first noticed it. After a few minutes of looking at and photographing the bird I noticed someone walking almost straight towards it and me from the west, waving his arms. At first I thought he might be a birder or photographer alerting me to the owl, but it became apparent that he was just walking his dog on the beach and waving his arms for exercise. When this fellow and his dog got too close, the Snowy Owl flew about a hundred yards to the southwest and landed on the open beach outside the protected area. The bird remained here until the dog walker turned around and started heading back west. When the guy and his dog got too close again the owl flew back to the north and landed on top of the shelf ice on the beach. I watched the bird for a little while but when I looked back a few minutes later I didn’t see it. This is the palest Snowy Owl I’ve seen anywhere this season, and one of the palest I’ve ever seen. I’m guessing it’s an older male. Unfortunately the photos I took don’t do it justice.
After the Snowy Owl excitement I walked back along the lake and had a group of 5 White-winged Scoters, including 3 adult males, very close to shore near the tower in the native planting area. This has been an exceptional winter for White-winged Scoters along the Chicago lakefront.