The focus of this blog is nature at Montrose Point in Chicago, with an emphasis on birds and birding. I write about other areas of interest from time to time, but this is the first post I’ve written about surfing, one of the lesser known and lesser done activities at Montrose. Most surfing happens in fall when storms churn up lake Michigan and produce waves large enough to ride. These waves are never huge, like California or Hawaii, but they are big enough to support a person on a surfboard for a short distance. On November 19, 2021, two intrepid surfers were enjoying the waves at Montrose Beach. The air temperature was in the low 30s. Small consolation was the 50 degree water temperature, definitely requiring a wetsuit. At least they didn’t have to worry about sharks.
A strong cold front will move through Chicago over the weekend of November 12 – 14. Daily high temperatures will be in the low 40s and winds will be westerly, at least for Saturday and Sunday, and in the 10 to 15 mile per hour range. This is an excellent setup for a late fall push of birds. These conditions often produce Short-eared Owls and Franklin’s Gulls, and we could see a few hawks migrating down Lake Michigan, especially Northern Harriers. Sandhill Cranes also move on these conditions, though we rarely see large numbers of them at Montrose. There’s always the possibility of something extraordinary showing up – it is November after all.
We’ve been experiencing unseasonably mild conditions for most of October, with intermittent rain and south or east winds. It’s felt more like April or May and this pattern is forecast to continue into the middle of the month. These are poor conditions for fall migration. When October comes, birders look forward with eager anticipation to cold fronts and west winds, ideal conditions that bring large numbers of migrants south. A cold front is the leading edge of a colder air mass that originates to the north of us. The graphic illustrates what a cold front looks like on a weather map – a blue, curved line with small triangles that look like teeth. Migrants ride these cold fronts south out of Canada. If you’ve been to Montrose in the last week you’ve probably noticed how flat it feels. We are getting migrants, but not big numbers of birds we should be seeing now, like Yellow-rumped Warblers and White-throated Sparrows. At some point this pattern will break and things will change. Being a birder means waiting a lot for something to happen.
The weekend of May 1 – 3 looks like a good one for birding, with sustained southwest winds Saturday, Sunday, and into Monday. We should see a big influx of warblers and sparrows, as well more thrushes and flycatchers. Don’t forget to check the Montrose Point eBird Hotspot for updates.
We’re in for a surge of warm air and southwest winds on Tuesday, April 27 and Wednesday, April 28. These conditions look favorable for a strong movement of passerines during that two day period. We should see an increase in warbler activity, with several uncommon species possible, including Hooded, Kentucky, and with luck, Worm-eating. Sparrows will be the big story. White-throated and Swamp Sparrow numbers will increase dramatically, and late April is a good time to see less common species like LeConte’s and Henslow’s. As always, keep checking the Montrose Point eBird Hotspot for updated information and sightings.
Time to get excited.
As expected, the strong south winds brought a lot of migrants to Montrose Point on March 30. I ended up with 41 species in a little over two hours of effort, and 57 species were reported on eBird by all observers. Most impressive were the numbers of Northern Flickers coming in off Lake Michigan early in the morning. These birds were migrating north over the lake at night, and when the sun rose they started to head inland towards land and safety. No passerine or other landbird worth its life wants to get caught over Lake Michigan when the sun comes up. The local Peregrine Falcons and Herring Gulls relish hunting these tardy migrants as they make their way to shore. I also had multiple first of spring sightings, including Caspian Tern, Belted Kingfisher, Hermit Thrush, and Lapland Longspur. Link to my eBird checklist for the morning below.
March 30, 2021