Migration is weird. Birds can and do show up in strange places and out of their normal, preferred habitat. You may have your own experience with this, like a Sora or Virginia Rail that showed up in a garage or parking lot. This LeConte’s Sparrow proves the point. LeConte’s are grassland and marsh sparrows, but this one found itself beneath a group of hawthorn trees at Montrose on September 29, 2022.
What’s more interesting in this photo? The male Bobolink feeding near the top of the tree or the midges buzzing around him?
If you were at Montrose in late April or early May 2022, you couldn’t help but notice the swarms of midges (midges are insects related to mosquitoes). If you happened to walk through a cloud of them, a few may have ended up in your eyes or mouth. The midges may have been annoying to us but the birds were loving them. Seeing White-throated and Swamp Sparrows feasting on these tiny insects in the tree tops was odd, something you’d expect from warblers, but they were taking advantage of an abundant food source, like any smart bird would.
Photo: Male Bobolink from Montrose Point in Chicago, May 7, 2022
We’re having a strong late April and early May songbird migration. Sparrow numbers and variety have been excellent, with many White-throated and Swamp Sparrows and Eastern Towhees around. Smaller numbers of White-crowned, Lincoln’s, Savannah, and a few Lark, Vesper, and Clay-colored Sparrows have also been seen. Non-sparrow passerines like Brown Thrashers, Gray Catbirds, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers have been in good numbers for those species. What we haven’t been seeing are large numbers of insect dependent songbirds like flycatchers, warblers, vireos, and Catharus thrushes, excluding Hermit. This is probably because of the unseasonably chilly temperatures and persistent north winds we’ve been experiencing. Unfortunately, as of May 2, the forecast out to about May 8 doesn’t indicate much change in this pattern. When it does break and we get a serious warm up, we should see a big influx of migrants. Mid may is typically the peak of spring migration, with the largest variety of passerines of the year. As always, keep checking the Montrose Point eBird Hotspot for the latest sightings.
Terry Walsh picked out an adult male Long-tailed Duck next to the fishing pier on April 4. The bird was very tame and never strayed far from the pier while we watched it, though trying to photograph it in the heavy lake chop proved challenging. Long-tailed Ducks aren’t rare at Montrose, but April is getting late for them and we usually don’t see them so close to shore.
April 4 was also a good day for passerine migrants, with many Golden-crowned Kinglets. Song Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos around. The eBird total for the day hit about 60 species. Activity will only pick up from here until mid May. Link to my eBird checklist below.
April 4, 2022
A male Red-winged Blackbird surprised me on February 15. It seems a little early for them, but Red-wingeds didn’t (and usually don’t) winter at Montrose, so this bird has to be a migrant. Along with Red-wings, other early spring passerine migrants we should start seeing in the next couple weeks include Horned Larks, Song Sparrows, and Eastern Meadowlarks. Waterfowl diversity will also pick up during this period. Check weather reports for warm fronts and south winds as these are the conditions that bring in spring migrants.
The middle of October is Harris’s Sparrow time in Chicago. We see a handful every year at Montrose, usually in fall. On October 15 Terry Walsh found an adult Harris’s at the Magic Clump, and Kevin Lin found an immature on October 17. The best way to look for Harris’s is to check groups of sparrows, especially White-throated and White-crowned, which can occur anywhere at Montrose at this time of the year.