I walked over to Montrose on December 31 for some end of year birding. It looked and felt like winter, with an inch of crusty snow on the ground and icy paths that made walking challenging in places. The winds were light and it wasn’t too cold, however, so the experience was pleasant for the season. I ended up with a respectable 22 species, the best being the continuing Lincoln’s Sparrow in the Magic Hedge. This is significant because Lincoln’s Sparrows don’t usually winter in Chicago. A thin veneer of ice was developing in Montrose Harbor, a portent of things to come. Lake Michigan was still ice-free, and on it were numbers of Red-breasted Mergansers and Common Goldeneye, two of our common wintering waterfowl (Common Merganser is the other). The local band of Black-capped Chickadees are in full begging mode; if you offer crushed peanuts or birdseed, the bolder ones will come in and take the morsels from your open hand. I also saw a couple of Cooper’s Hawks, including a close encounter with a perched adult.
Note that Montrose is closed to entry by car; if you drive you’ll have to park west of Lake Shore Drive and walk in. This won’t be onerous if the weather is decent but watch your footing. See the Montrose FAQ page for updated information about visiting the park.
Cassin’s Sparrow. Photo by Geoff Williamson. (click to see the larger version)
November is one of the most exciting months for birders. We look forward to it with the same sense of anticipation and excitement as we do for May, and with good reason. The annals of Illinois ornithology are filled with November rarities and vagrants.
On the morning of November 13 I was walking the outside of the boat storage lot at Montrose as I have been since a Harris’s Sparrow showed up there in October. I never birded it much in the past and usually just walked by it on my way to the rest of the Point. I didn’t see the October Harris’s Sparrow but I was finding other sparrows, so I had enough incentive to keep checking. At about 8:30 a.m. I kicked up a small bird near a spruce tree on the northeast side of the lot. I thought at first it was a wren but the thick bill ruled out a wren and ruled in a sparrow. The bird was plain to the point of being non-descript and had a long tail. Several possibilities came to mind. I suspected Cassin’s Sparrow based on probability, and when I saw the flank streaking I knew that’s what it was. The bird was decidedly uncooperative for me and played a frustrating game of hide and seek that made seeing plumage details almost impossible. Others had better luck viewing it after I left. Close-up photos show diagnostic field marks for this species that weren’t apparent in the field, including white tips to the outer tail feathers and horizontal barring on the tail. This is the first Cassin’s Sparrow for Montrose, number 347.
Cassin’s Sparrow is a bird of the American Southwest, but they do wander and occur far out of their normal range. eBird has records for the East Coast, New England, and the Canadian Maritimes. Illinois has three previous records, all within the last 40 years. It is a species if not to be expected than to at least consider seriously as a possibility.
Long-tailed Duck (click to see the larger version)
A female Long-tailed Duck has been hanging around the fishing pier at Montrose for the last few days. On October 28 I saw her near the end of the pier on the Lake Michigan side. Long-tailed Ducks are uncommon but regular late fall through early spring visitors to Montrose.
October 28 was an interesting day with a nice mix of birds. I ended up with 49 species for about 2 hours of effort, and 60 species were reported to eBird for the day. Some of my highlights include
March 26 saw an influx of migrants, most notably American Robins, blackbirds, and several types of sparrows. There were also good numbers of ducks on Lake Michigan, particularly Red-breasted Mergansers, and a few ducks moving north. This happens every spring when we get warm fronts and south winds. I tallied 46 species in a little less than 2 hours of effort, including a number of first of seasons. My highlights
LeConte’s Sparrow (click to see the larger version)
October is the month for LeConte’s Sparrows at Montrose. This particular LeConte’s was hanging around an isolated bush in Montrose Dunes. I think we should start calling this bush the Magic Bush for the way it’s been attracting sparrows this fall. Link to my eBird checklist for the day below.
Montrose was on fire with birds on May 19, hands down the best day of the spring. I ended up with 107 species for the day, 103 in the morning and 4 more on a return visit in the afternoon and evening, my second best daily total ever there (over 130 species were reported to eBird for the day, which is about as well as we do). The Magic Hedge lived up to its name and was bursting with warblers, thrushes, vireos, and flycatchers. One of the highlights was a slightly out of place male Least Bittern in the peripheral plantings. We live for days like this. We suffer through Midwestern winters for experiences like this. My highlights include
Piping Plover (2)
Lesser Black-backed Gull (first cycle bird)
Philadelphia Vireo (4)
24 species of warblers including Mourning, Connecticut, Black-throated Blue, and Hooded, plus gobs of Bay-breasted, Magnolias, and Blackpolls