Category Archives: Birding Tips

Winter Gulls and Gulling

Herring and Iceland Gulls

Herring and Iceland Gulls (click to see the larger version)

We’ve had some unusual gulls at Montrose this winter, including Great Black-backed, Lesser Black-backed, and Iceland. We haven’t had any Glaucous Gulls but they could show up too. The best place to look for these gulls is on Lake Michigan off the fishing pier. Ironically, the harbor rarely gets unusual gulls in the winter, even though Ring-billed Gulls often gather there. If you have a spare loaf of bread or two, try chumming from the fishing pier. You’ll at least bring in Herring and Ring-billed Gulls, and the commotion may draw in something better.

eBird Tip – Writing Good Species Descriptions

eBird species description example

eBird species description example (click to see the larger version)

eBird makes it easy to add written details to your bird sightings – just click the Add Details button to the right of the species name when you’re entering bird sightings. This opens up a field where you can enter as much text as you like. eBird strongly encourages you to provide details about rare birds. This extra information helps eBird reviewers determine the validity of a rare bird. Diagnostic photographs are the best evidence, but if you don’t have photos the next best option is to provide a good, detailed written description. A good description should include field marks that confirm the identification and eliminate similar species. For example, say you saw a female Hooded Warbler at Montrose in November. A Hooded Warbler in November is rare and unexpected and would trip the eBird filters. Writing something like “It looked like the picture in the book” or “It was hopping on the ground” aren’t very helpful to eBird reviewers. A better description would be “Female. A warbler with unmarked green wings and back, unmarked yellow underparts, yellow face with a black rear border, and prominent white tails spots”. This is enough information to eliminate other species. The key is to include field marks you noted in the field. eBird reviewers will appreciate your attention to detail.

November Is Also For Owls

Long-eared Owl

Long-eared Owl (click to see the larger version)

November is known for rare waterbirds but it’s also excellent for owls. Long-eared, Short-eared, and Barn Owls have been reported at Montrose this November and Northern Saw-whet is a good bet. If Snowy Owls are invading they usually start appearing around Thanksgiving. So, while you’re looking for Black-legged Kittiwakes on Lake Michigan, don’t forget to check the Dunes, woods, and shrubs for owls.

Something Different – The Amur Cork Tree

Amur Cork Tree and a Hermit Thrush

Amur Cork Tree and a Hermit Thrush (click to see the larger version)

One of the benefits of birding is that it touches so many other disciplines – you end up learning something about botany, entomology, weather, even physics. Montrose hosts an impressive variety of trees, including an exotic Asian species known as the Amur Cork Tree. Most naturalists don’t think highly of non-native plants because of the adverse effects they can have on the environment. One redeeming quality of the Amur Cork Tree is that it produces large amounts of juicy berries that fruit eating birds like American Robins and Hermit Thrushes love. The photo shows one of the Cork Trees from Montrose. Note the clusters of dark berries and the Hermit Thrush about to eat them.

The next time you’re at Montrose, practice your tree identification skills and see if you can find our Amur Cork Trees.

Northern Saw-whet Owl, October 20, 2022

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Northern Saw-whet Owl (click to see the larger version)

There isn’t a much more rewarding experience than finding a roosting Northern Saw-whet Owl during migration. This one was as fascinated with me as I was with it. Shoutout to the Northern Cardinal and Black-capped Chickadees for getting me on it. The secret to discovery in nature is awareness of the signs, cues, and messages it presents.

Tip: Listen for scolding Black-capped Chickadees and other small songbirds. They’re good at locating roosting owls in dense vegetation. If you hear complaining songbirds, look around and you might find a Saw-whet.

Note: Disclosing the exact location of a roosting owl is frowned upon in the birding community. Doing so could lead to harassment of the owl by birders and photographers. Giving the general location is acceptable, but if you find a roosting owl you should keep the precise location to yourself.

Weather and Birding Forecast, October 13 and 14

Weather forecast screenshot for May 19 and 20

Weather forecast screenshot. From weather.com. (click to see the larger version)

A strong cold front will pass through northern Illinois late in the day on October 12. The backside winds will be from the west on October 13 and 14. These conditions are favorable for several birds at Montrose, including Franklin’s Gulls, Short-eared Owls, and possibly American Avocets and Smith’s Longspurs. We should also see an influx of typical mid October passerines.