Category Archives: Other Wildlife

Wildlife other than birds

Mudpuppy, April 12, 2023


Dead Mudpuppy at Montrose (click to see the larger version)

Montrose is known for all kinds of critters but we don’t do well with amphibians. Part of the reason for this is that Montrose doesn’t have much in the way of amphibian habitat. We used to have American Toads in the pannes, sometimes in the hundreds, but the pannes dried up recently and the toads disappeared.

The Chicago area is home to a large salamander called a Mudpuppy. They’re in Lake Michigan but since Mudpuppies spend their entire lives under water we don’t see them, unless a fisherman accidentally catches one. This is what must have happened to the dead 10 inch long Mudpuppy on the fishing pier on April 12. The Mudpuppy either grabbed the bait or was incidentally snagged by the hook. The unsuspecting fisherman probably thought he caught a salmon. When he reeled it in he realized he didn’t have a fish but something else entirely, something weird and alien looking, like a miniature version of the creature from the black lagoon. Out of frustration, or panic, he threw it on the pier, where it died, an unfortunate end to a fascinating native animal.

Little Troublemakers

Presumed Zebra Mussel shell from Montrose Beach

Presumed Zebra Mussel shell from Montrose Beach (click to see the larger version)

Almost every square foot of Montrose Beach has Zebra or Quagga Mussel shells. These invasive, non-native mollusks have altered the ecology of Lake Michigan and created problems for commerce. It’s hard to believe something so small can create so much trouble for people and the environment. One positive aspect of their presence is that they provide food for several species of duck, like Common Goldeneye and Greater Scaup.

The photo shows a presumed Zebra Mussel shell. The shell is bleached from exposure to the sun and blowing sand, but you can still see how this species got its name. The next time you’re at Montrose Beach, try finding both Zebra and Quagga Mussel shells. The Nature Spot website has a great section on how to identify the two.

Something Fishy

Lake Trout

Lake Trout (click to see the larger version)

Ah, there’s nothing like seeing a dead fish to lift the spirits. I usually don’t post photos of deceased animals but this one is worth mentioning. On November 29, 2022 I found a washed-up Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush) on Montrose Beach. This might be the first Lake Trout I’ve seen at Montrose. Most of the large predatory fish in Lake Michigan are non-native and introduced, like the familiar Chinook and Coho Salmon. Lake Trout were once the dominant large predatory fish in the Great Lakes; lamprey predation, pollution, and overharvesting greatly reduced their numbers. Thanks to conservation measures, they’ve rebounded but they aren’t as common as they once were.

Identification: We know this is a Lake Trout and not an introduced salmon because of the small white spots on the body and the deeply forked tail. Our non-native salmon have dark speckling on their bodies and shallower tail forks.

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.

Midges, Midges Everywhere


Bobolink (click to see the larger version)

What’s more interesting in this photo? The male Bobolink feeding near the top of the tree or the midges buzzing around him?

If you were at Montrose in late April or early May 2022, you couldn’t help but notice the swarms of midges (midges are insects related to mosquitoes). If you happened to walk through a cloud of them, a few may have ended up in your eyes or mouth. The midges may have been annoying to us but the birds were loving them. Seeing White-throated and Swamp Sparrows feasting on these tiny insects in the tree tops was odd, something you’d expect from warblers, but they were taking advantage of an abundant food source, like any smart bird would.

Photo: Male Bobolink from Montrose Point in Chicago, May 7, 2022

Montrose Piping Plovers – Are They Worth It?

Piping Plover

Rose, the female Piping Plover (click to see the larger version)

For the third consecutive year, Monty and Rose, our famous Piping Plover couple, nested and raised a family. This is an enormous conservation success story by any measure, the first time Piping Plovers have nested in Chicago in over 50 years.

The wide sandy beach at Montrose is near perfect Piping Plover habitat, but Montrose is far from ideal as a nesting location. Montrose is one of the most popular beaches in Chicago; all that human activity makes life difficult for any bird that nests on the open beach, like Piping Plovers do. The human animals aren’t the only challenge the plovers face. Montrose is also home to several mammalian predators, including Striped Skunks and Racoons, and they aren’t above preying on Piping Plover eggs. In fact, in 2021, a skunk ate some of the eggs from Monty and Rose’s first clutch. As if the mammalian predators weren’t enough, Montrose also hosts Peregrine Falcons, Cooper’s Hawks, Great Blue Herons, and gulls, all capable of dispatching the plovers and their young. With all these threats it’s a miracle Monty and Rose are able to nest and raise a family. The hard truth is that without human involvement the chances of them nesting successfully are small. Part of the beach got fenced off to keep people out in case Monty and Rose decided to nest there in 2021. Like the beach, the Dunes got fenced off to keep people out when Monty and Rose chose to nest there. To protect the eggs form predators, a steel cage was placed over the nest. Even with a cage a determined skunk managed to slip through and pilfer the eggs, forcing Monty and Rose to start over. A new, larger cage prevented this from happening again. To deter avian predators, biologists stationed a trap baited with a live pigeon in the Dunes. On top of all this, a cadre of dedicated volunteers spent hundreds of hours monitoring the plovers.

So the question is, is all this effort worth it? Is all the inconvenience worth it? I led field trips to Montrose in the spring of 2021 and I would take my guests down to the beach and Dunes, where I talked about the nesting Piping Plovers and the efforts to protect them. On one trip a client remarked “All this for a couple little birds?” It’s a legitimate question to ask. I think the answer is a resounding yes. Monty and Rose became celebrities in Chicago, raising awareness of their struggle and the plight of Piping Plovers on the Great Lakes. Their story was mentioned in the news and it became impossible not to sympathize with them. Their story also raised awareness of Montrose and how important it is for wildlife, especially the fragile Dunes.

The story of Monty and Rose is a story of hope and struggle, of people from different backgrounds working together to give a pair of underdogs a fighting chance at raising their kids in a not always hospitable environment. We look forward to their return.