Eared Grebe (upper left) with 2 Horned Grebes and a Red-breasted Merganser (click to see the larger version)
April 11 lived up to the billing and turned out to be an exceptional day for migrants, with about 80 species reported to eBird. The south winds overnight brought in a lot of birds, as south winds usually do in spring. Northern Flickers and Hermit Thrushes were conspicuous by their numbers. Bird of the day goes to the nearly full breeding plumaged Eared Grebe on Lake Michigan near the base of the fishing pier. The bird was close to shore and conveniently associating with a group of Horned Grebes for comparison. Eared Grebes are rare and not annual at Montrose. Other goodies include Merlin, Short-eared Owl, Eurasian Collared-Dove, and the late continuing male Long-tailed Duck along the fishing pier. Link to my eBird checklist for the morning below.
Long-tailed Duck (click to see the larger version)
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.
A second March Snowy Owl made an appearance on the 25th. Ironically, it was on the end of the fishing pier in the exact same spot as the March 15th bird. Snowy Owls love to roost on the pier – always give it a good scan late fall through early spring for them. Other interesting birds include a flyby Red-throated Loon and 27 White-winged Scoters. Also, Red-breasted Merganser numbers are starting to pick up on Lake Michigan. The males are doing their elaborate dip and bow display to impress the females. Link to my eBird checklist for the morning below.
A Snowy Owl was lounging on the end of the fishing pier at Montrose on March 15. We don’t see Snowies as often in the spring but we do get them occasionally. They have to go back north at some point and March is when we see most of these rebounding birds. Illinois experienced an impressive influx of Snowy Owls during the winter of 2021/2022. We even saw a few at Montrose.
March 15 was also an exciting day for waterfowl. Scores of Gadwall, Northern Pintail, Mallards, and several others were making their way north over Lake Michigan. A few times each spring we get large flights of ducks moving north over the lake. These flights (and today’s flight) often occur on days with north winds. It seems counterintuitive for birds to migrate into a head wind, but doing so may actually make flying easier as the onrushing air generates lift for them. This is also why airplanes like to take off into a head wind. Link to my eBird checklist for the morning below.
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.
Chicago area birder David Johnson likes to point out that February is a good month for White-winged Scoters on Lake Michigan. Indeed, the first White-winged Scoters we see at Montrose show up in February. On February 9, a group of three White-wingeds flew north past the Point, the first report of this species at Montrose in 2022. The best way to look for White-winged Scoters at Montrose is to spend time along the immediate lakefront, scanning Lake Michigan for waterfowl on the lake or flying by. Flocks of 20 or more birds are seen on occasion. White-wingeds can also turn up at or just outside the harbor mouth.