Category Archives: Fall Bird Reports

September 1 – November 30, inclusive

Sandhill Cranes (not at Montrose but not far away), November 22, 2021

Sandhill Cranes

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.

Black Vulture, November 13 and 14, 2021 – MEGA

Black Vulture

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

  • April 9, 2019

Franklin’s Gulls (and a bonus Black Scoter), November 12, 2021

Black Scoter

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?

eBird Checklist
November 12, 2021

November Cometh

Snow Buntings

Snow Buntings at Montrose Dunes, fall 2020. (click to see the larger version)

November is one of the most exciting months of the year at Montrose. The list of rarities found there in November is long and distinguished. As examples, an Ancient Murrelet, just the fourth record for Illinois, made an appearance in 2019, and in 2020 the fourth state record Cassin’s Sparrow delighted birders. General birding can be good too. Here are a few November birding tips:

  • Check the beach and Dunes for Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings. The buntings favor the more open areas of the Dunes, and the longspurs are usually flying over. Both will sometimes feed out in the open on the beach or even in the algae that washes up on the beach.
  • On days with brisk west winds, Short-eared Owls are a good bet in the Dunes. They usually kick up out of the denser vegetation and fly out over Lake Michigan.
  • With a little effort and luck, Northern Saw-whet and Long-eared Owls can be found in the peripheral plantings. Look for whitewash and listen for scolding, excited Black-capped Chickadees.
  • The fishing pier is an excellent place to scan Lake Michigan for loons, grebes, and waterfowl, either resting on the surface or in flight. Overcast days with light winds offer the best viewing conditions.
  • Northern Shrikes like the Dunes and more open areas of the Point. Look for them perched in the tops of trees or flying through, flashing their white wing and tail spots.
  • Black-legged Kittiwakes sometimes turn up, especially on days with northeast winds. They aren’t a sure bet but if you’re at Montrose on a day with easterly winds, pay attention to the gulls flying by. This applies for jaegers too.

See the Montrose Glossary page for descriptions of the locations mentioned above.

Harris’s Sparrows

Harris's Sparrow

Harris’s Sparrow at Montrose. Photo courtesy of Mike Ferguson. (click to see the larger version)

The middle of October is Harris’s Sparrow time in Chicago. We see a handful every year at Montrose, usually in fall. On October 15 Terry Walsh found an adult Harris’s at the Magic Clump, and Kevin Lin found an immature on October 17. The best way to look for Harris’s is to check groups of sparrows, especially White-throated and White-crowned, which can occur anywhere at Montrose at this time of the year.

October 13, 2021 – Peregrine Falcons and More

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon (click to see the larger version)

It was a Peregrine kind of day at Montrose on October 13. This juvenile perched obligingly in a snag long enough to have its picture taken. We also had an adult Peregrine, which knocked a poor migrating Winter Wren out of the sky and into Lake Michigan.

The Peregrine Falcons weren’t the only highlight. October 13 was one of the best days of the fall at Montrose for passerine migration, with lots of Swamp Sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and kinglets. Bonus birds include American Avocet and three Franklin’s Gulls. I ended up with 52 species for the morning. Link to my eBird checklist below.

eBird Checklist
October 13, 2021