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
It looks like we’re in for a nice stretch of favorable migration conditions from March 21 to 24, with southerly winds each day. Montrose should be excellent during this period. We should see an influx of “later” early spring migrants like Golden-crowned Kinglets, Hermit Thrushes, Eastern Towhees, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and others. As always, check the Montrose Point eBird Hotspot for current sightings.
The forecast for March 8 to March 11 looks propitious for a strong movement of birds, with southwest winds each day. This is an ideal setup for a big push of blackbirds, American Robins, waterfowl, and other early spring migrants. If you can get to Montrose any of these days, by all means do. We wait all winter for a stretch of favorable migration conditions like this.
Lake Michigan is a huge body of water. At 300 miles long and almost 120 miles at its widest, it’s rightly considered an inland sea as much as a large lake. In winter, Lake Michigan supports tens if not hundreds of thousands of waterfowl. Most are Common and Red-breasted Mergansers, Common Goldeneye, Long-tailed Ducks, and Greater Scaup. Any open area of water on the Lake will host at least a few of these species in winter. These birds depend on the Lake for food. As long as they have access to open water they can hunt for fish, crustaceans, and mollusks and survive the worst that winter has to offer. They’re all resilient birds. Lake Michigan has never completely frozen over, but it’s come close. The winter of 2013/2014 was especially cold and saw a 93% peak ice coverage in early March. The stress this puts on the birds that depend on having open water is enormous. Some don’t make it. I remember the winter of 2013/2014. In early March, Lake Michigan was frozen to the horizon at Montrose Point in Chicago, with a tiny open spot off the southeast point. In this open spot were a group of Greater Scaup, White-winged Scoters, and Red-breasted Mergansers, all desperate and trying frantically to survive. The only thing keeping the water from freezing was their paddling and movement. I found several dead ducks, some frozen on the ice, and a few even on land. This is a reminder of how harsh nature can be, and what happens when a resource becomes unavailable to large numbers of birds.
As I write this post in mid-February 2021, Chicago is experiencing a stretch of unseasonably cold late winter weather. Most of Lake Michigan at Montrose is frozen to the horizon, with small areas of open water at the harbor mouth and off the fishing pier. From a birding point of view, checking these open areas is worthwhile since they tend to attract and concentrate ducks and gulls. In addition to the expected Common and Red-breasted Mergansers and Common Goldeneye, we’ve seen Long-tailed Duck and Black Scoter. According to NOAA, Lake Michigan has about 27% ice coverage, a far cry from 93% in 2014. If the unseasonably cold weather persists, the 27% will no doubt increase.