May 19 will go down as the best day for migration in 2023. Montrose was full of warblers, thrushes, and flycatchers. It was also full of birders. Over 140 species were reported to eBird by all observers, and several people topped 100, which only happens a couple times each year. My highlights include
A fisherman and his gear (click to see the larger version)
One of the most distinctive sounds of spring at Montrose is the firing of fishing lines. Fishermen use fire extinguishers fitted with a pipe to propel their lines out into Lake Michigan. This setup functions like a canon, and the sound it makes is loud enough to startle you if you’re nearby. I’ve also noticed how close some waterbirds come to these fishing lines. I’ve seen Horned Grebes, Red-breasted Mergansers, and a Common Loon on one occasion swim right up to the lines. These birds may have been curious and looking for an easy meal. I can imagine a grebe or merganser getting tangled or grabbing the baited hook, which would be a mess for the fisherman and the bird. A tangled and thrashing Common Loon would be a worst case scenario. Loons are big enough and strong enough to do serious damage to a human trying to free them. They have sharp bills that can draw blood or poke out an eye. My guess is that fishermen would cut the line and lose their bait rather than try to free a struggling bird.
Greater White-fronted Goose (click to see the larger version)
March is the month for waterfowl and one of the more uncommon waterfowl species at Montrose is Greater White-fronted Goose. We usually see them in early March or even late February if the weather is right. Sometimes large movements involving hundreds of birds occur, but a few dozen is more typical. For some reason, we saw only one White-fronted at Montrose in spring 2023, a flyover immature on March 26. This is a bit late but also a helpful reminder that birds don’t always behave like we expect them to. One interesting tidbit about White-fronted Geese is that hunters refer to them as specklebellies, an allusion to the prominent dark spotting and barring on the underparts of the adults.
American Wigeon flying north past Montrose Point (click to see the larger version)
An impressive flight of dabbling and bay ducks took place on the morning of March 2. This flight included numbers of Northern Pintail, American Wigeon, Redheads, and Canvasbacks, the latter uncommon at Montrose. Most of these birds were flying north into a strong headwind. This seems counterintuitive but is typical behavior for migrating spring ducks along the western shore of Lake Michigan.
Now that February is here we’re starting to think about spring and migration, but it’s still winter and we’re still getting winter birds. I can’t think of two more wintry birds in Chicago than Glaucous Gull and Long-tailed Duck. Both were at Montrose on February 10. This is the first Glaucous Gull I’ve seen at Montrose all winter. Not to be outdone, a tame adult male Long-tailed Duck graced the inside of the fishing pier. The Glaucous Gull flew off shortly after I photographed it, but the Long-tailed was still there when I left. More photos are at my eBird checklist for the morning, URL below.
Cackling and Canada Geese (click to see the larger version)
Late January is the slowest time of the year for birding at Montrose. Fall migration is over and spring migration won’t start for two or three weeks at the earliest. If you see 20 species in a day in the middle of winter you’re doing well. January 2023 hasn’t been any different than previous Januarys, except perhaps for the milder weather, but we have had a few interesting sightings. Two Cackling Geese are hanging out with the large wintering Canada Goose flock. Look for them wherever the Canadas are, like the harbor or at the north end of the Marovitz Golf Course. The smaller, shorter necked, and stubbier billed Cacklers really stand out among their larger cousins.
Red-throated Loons are regular in winter in small numbers along the Illinois Lake Michigan lakefront. On January 22 one was resting on the lake a few hundred yards offshore from the end of the fishing pier. Red-throated Loon is the default winter loon on Lake Michigan. Your best bet for seeing them at Montrose is from the fishing pier.
Photos of the Cackling Geese and Red-throated Loon are at my eBird checklist for the morning, URL below.