Black-legged Kittiwake flying by Montrose Point (click to see the larger version)
Black-legged Kittiwakes are rare but regular visitors to Lake Michigan, mainly in November. On November 24, a crisply marked juvenile flew north over Lake Michigan past Montrose Point. This is the second Black-legged Kittiwake seen at Montrose this fall, the first occurring on November 4.
If you’re at Montrose, or any other place along the Chicago lakefront this November and December, pay attention to the gulls that are flying by. Most will be Herring and Ring-billed, but you may get lucky and see a Black-legged Kittiwake. Almost all of the kittiwakes we see are juveniles, and juveniles have a distinctive appearance, like someone took a black magic marker and drew a neat “M” pattern on their wings. Try a Google image search for “juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake” to see examples of this plumage.
November is known for rare waterbirds but it’s also excellent for owls. Long-eared, Short-eared, Snowy, and Northern Saw-whet Owls have been reported at Montrose as of November 12. So, while you’re dreaming about alcids and waiting for a Black-legged Kittiwake to fly by, don’t forget to check the Dunes, woods, and shrubs for owls. Look for whitewash, listen for complaining songbirds, and scan open areas for round white lumps.
A list of the next ten or twenty new species for Montrose might include a buteo like a Broad-winged Hawk but probably not Ferruginous Hawk. On November 6 the improbable happened and a juvenile dark morph Ferruginous Hawk flew over Montrose Point. Dark morph buteos can be tricky to identify but diagnostic photos taken by an attentive birder confirmed the identification. The bird drifted down the beach and off to the west before disappearing, though it was seen and photographed the next day at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. Ferruginous Hawk is a very rare visitor to Illinois from the western United States and southwestern Canada. This is the 351st species for Montrose, and yet we still don’t have a verified Broad-winged Hawk.
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (click to see the larger version)
October is an excellent month for rarities in Illinois. In keeping with this historical tendency, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was discovered at Montrose on October 14 and refound on October 15. The bird moved around quite a bit and proved challenging to pin down, but spent enough time in the Dunes to delight the dozens of people who came to look for it. This sighting represents about the fifth Scissor-tailed Flycatcher record for Montrose. Also of note is that Montrose has 15 flycatcher species to its credit, maybe the highest total for any location in Illinois.
Sandhill Cranes over Montrose (click to see the larger version)
Thousands of Sandhill Cranes migrated over Chicago on November 18 and 19. This is an annual occurrence in late fall when we get intense cold fronts and brisk west winds. These conditions are necessary to force them south out of Wisconsin and east as far as the city. Birders throughout Chicago and northeastern Illinois were reporting big numbers, as well as a few rarer Whooping Cranes. Several hundred Sandhills made it to Montrose, which is unusual, and a testament to how strong the winds were. The Sandhill Cranes in the photo flew right down the Lake Michigan shoreline and over Cricket Hill on their way south.
Short-eared Owls (click to see the larger version)
If you were lucky enough to be at Montrose Dunes on the morning of November 10, you were treated to a dazzling aerial display of Short-eared Owls. Up to 5 were swooping, circling, and floppy flying over the Dunes and Lake Michigan. Most eventually settled down in the Dunes and disappeared from sight. This is about as many Short-eareds as we see at one time at Montrose. It’s also a reminder that November is an excellent month for owls. More photos of this morning’s Short-eared Owls are at my eBird checklist, URL below.
November 10, 2022