Limpkin at the Chicago Botanic Garden (click to see the larger version)
I finally caught up with the Chicago Botanic Garden Limpkin after missing it last weekend and probably walking right by it three weeks ago. The Botanic Garden bird first showed up nearby in the Skokie Lagoons but made its way to the swampy area at the south end of the Botanic Garden and stayed there, gorging on sandwich-sized clams (the spent clam shells are obvious on the bank where the bird has been hanging around). Limpkins are found in wetlands throughout the American tropics and are also common in Florida. The last few years have seen an explosion of them in the eastern United States outside their normal range, with records as far north as southern Canada and as far west as Colorado (from eBird). The Botanic Garden bird is the fourth or fifth Limpkin record for Illinois, the first coming just four years ago in 2019.
Limpkin is a strange, primeval looking bird. As a point of reference, it’s related to cranes and rails, so if you’re familiar with Sandhill Crane or American Coot you’re in the right group of birds. When I see one it always reminds me of a small crane. An interesting tidbit about Limpkin is that its distinctive wailing call is sometimes used as a sound effect in movies. As an example, the scene in “The Godfather: Part 2” where Fredo gets whacked has a Limpkin calling in the background. Obviously the call was added in since there aren’t any Limpkins at Lake Tahoe where the scene was filmed.
What are the chances a Limpkin will show up at Montrose? Pretty slim I’d say. Montrose doesn’t have any marsh or wetland habitat that would be attractive to a Limpkin, and all of the Illinois records have been in this type of habitat. More important than just habitat is that Illinois Limpkin locations have hosted numbers of large mollusks like snails and clams that the birds have been feeding on. Our only chance would be a flyby, so brush up on Limpkin flight identification.
Eastern Screech-Owl from Montrose. Photo courtesy of Geoff Williamson (click to see the larger version)
Howard Blum and Terry Walsh found a red morph Eastern Screech-Owl on August 8. Hard to believe but this is the first verified Eastern Screech-Owl record for Montrose Point. Montrose boasts a long list of birds, a list that includes first and second state records as well as many other rare and unexpected species. Eastern Screech-Owl is a common and widespread bird in Illinois, including the Chicago area, but for unknown reasons it went unrecorded at Montrose until Howard and Terry found the August 8 bird. The total number of birds seen at Montrose now stands at 350.
Birds Recorded at Montrose Point
Buff-breasted Sandpiper (click to see the larger version)
An adult Buff-breasted Sandpiper graced Montrose Beach on the morning of August 5. This meager photo doesn’t do the experience justice as the bird walked close to the people fortunate enough to be there. Adult is the rarer of the two Buffy age classes we see; most are juveniles that show up later in August and early September. We also had adult Baird’s and Western Sandpipers, the later a rare bird and even rarer age class at Montrose. August is the best month for shorebirds for us, with the peak occuring later in the month. Try to visit the beach as often as possible, including later in the afternoon and evening.
Northern Rough-winged and Bank Swallows at Montrose Dunes (click to see the larger version)
Five species of swallows nest at Montrose – Barn, Bank, Northern Rough-winged, Tree, and Purple Martin. In mid summer, the young and adults of several of these species like to perch on the ropes and fencing in the Dunes. If you want to work on swallow identification and aging, the Dunes provide an excellent opportunity for study and photography. Similar species will often queue up side by side, making the differences between them more obvious. Watching the adults feed their begging children is also entertaining.
Carolina Wren (click to see the larger version)
A Carolina Wren was a pleasant surprise on July 1. Carolina Wrens aren’t rare in most of Illinois, but the further north you go in the state the less common they are, and they’re uncommon and irregular as far north as Chicago. Oftentimes, and for unknown reasons, they appear in the middle of summer. This is a kind of post breeding dispersal well documented in other species, like Great Blue Herons and Swallow-tailed Kites.
Here we are, almost two full weeks into June, and we’re still getting a trickle of migrants. Avian activity is dominated by the local breeding birds, but these bona fide migrants were at Montrose on June 13
What’s interesting is that the first southbound summer migrants will be showing up in just a few weeks. There almost isn’t a time when birds aren’t moving in one direction or the other, and Montrose Point is one of the best places to witness this near overlap in migrations.