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.
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
Two Rough-legged Hawks flew over Montrose on November 9. What’s interesting is that conditions weren’t favorable for hawk migration – overcast skies, light rain, and breezy south winds. Montrose is known for many things birdwise but we don’t do well with migrating buteos. Reasons for this discrepancy could be a lack of birders looking up for hawks and our proximity to Lake Michigan, which may scare away migrating buteos. Rough-legged Hawks aren’t intimidated by large bodies of water, which, oddly, may be the reason why we see more of them in active migration than other buteos, though they’re still rare.
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.
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.
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.