Migrating Sandhill Cranes over Chicago. Taken at Graceland Cemetery. (click to see the larger version)
A big push of Sandhill Cranes took place over Chicago on November 22, 2021. These birds were migrating en masse, responding to an intense cold front and strong northwest winds, typical behavior for Sandhills in late fall. When I started to see flocks from my apartment around noon I walked over to Graceland Cemetery to get a better look. From Graceland I could see multiple flocks drifting south one to two miles to the west and 300 to 500 feet high, possibly following the Chicago River or Western Avenue (the photo shows how I was seeing them). We rarely get big numbers of Sandhills like this at Montrose, unless the wind is blowing very hard from the west, and it wasn’t on November 22.
Sandhill Crane migration is fairly predictable in late fall – be alert for strong cold fronts with west winds. They also seem to move better on days with clear or at most partly cloudy skies. Heavy overcast and precipitation discourage them from flying.
Surfer at Montrose Beach (click to see the larger version)
The focus of this blog is nature at Montrose Point in Chicago, with an emphasis on birds and birding. I write about other areas of interest from time to time, but this is the first post I’ve written about surfing, one of the lesser known and lesser done activities at Montrose. Most surfing happens in fall when storms churn up lake Michigan and produce waves large enough to ride. These waves are never huge, like California or Hawaii, but they are big enough to support a person on a surfboard for a short distance. On November 19, 2021, two intrepid surfers were enjoying the waves at Montrose Beach. The air temperature was in the low 30s. Small consolation was the 50 degree water temperature, definitely requiring a wetsuit. At least they didn’t have to worry about sharks.
Black Vulture, November 14, 2021 (click to see the larger version)
A Black Vulture was seen at Montrose on Saturday, November 13. The bird worked its way up the lakefront from the Jarvis Sanctuary at Addison, stopping briefly near the harbor before ending up at Foster Avenue. On Sunday, November 14, it visited the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary, roosting obligingly on a light pole for the many birders who came to look for it. This is just the second Black Vulture record for Montrose.
Black Vultures are common throughout the southern United States and range south into Central and South America. The closest they normally come to Chicago is west central Indiana, though they frequently occur outside of their regular range as vagrants, sometimes dramatically so.
Postscript: The bird was captured by wildlife rehabbers on November 14 because it wasn’t healthy.
Previous Montrose Black Vulture Records
Black Scoter (click to see the larger version)
An impressive flight of Franklin’s Gulls took place at Montrose on November 12. Multiple flocks were flying fast down the lakefront, totaling about 150 birds. Some were flying over Lake Michigan, but most were passing right over the Point. Large numbers of Franklin’s aren’t unexpected in mid November and considering the powerful fall storm that moved through northern Illinois. I also had a Black Scoter inside the fishing pier.
Doesn’t November rock?
November 12, 2021
A strong cold front will move through Chicago over the weekend of November 12 – 14. Daily high temperatures will be in the low 40s and winds will be westerly, at least for Saturday and Sunday, and in the 10 to 15 mile per hour range. This is an excellent setup for a late fall push of birds. These conditions often produce Short-eared Owls and Franklin’s Gulls, and we could see a few hawks migrating down Lake Michigan, especially Northern Harriers. Sandhill Cranes also move on these conditions, though we rarely see large numbers of them at Montrose. There’s always the possibility of something extraordinary showing up – it is November after all.
Graphic of Montrose Point (click to see the larger version)
You may wonder what the best way to bird Montrose is, especially if you’ve never been there before. Many of the experienced birders take an outside to inside approach. By this I mean starting at the outside areas like the beach and Dunes and working inwards to the interior areas. The reason for this is that lighting is better early in the morning in the more open areas. The interior areas are darker early in the morning and it sometimes takes a while for the birds to warm up and become active. Also, any shorebirds that were resting on the beach overnight may get flushed by early morning beachgoers, so checking the beach first thing can pay off. After birding the beach and Dunes I like to walk the peripheral areas at the east end of the Point. Again, these areas are more open and have better lighting early in the morning, and you can still scan Lake Michigan for waterbirds or look for landbirds coming in off the lake. When I’m done birding the periphery I start checking the interior, including the Magic Hedge and Butterfly Garden. By mid morning the lighting has improved and birds are more visible and active in these areas.
You’re free to bird Montrose however you like, but if you start at the beach and Dunes and check the interior areas later in the morning you’ll optimize your time there.