Clay-colored Sparrow (click to see the larger version)
Saturday, May 13 qualified as a fallout given the volume of warblers, sparrows, flycatchers, and other passerine migrants present. Over 140 species were reported to eBird by all observers. The rain, north winds, and temperatures in the 50s didn’t slow down the birds or the birders. My highlights include
A fisherman and his gear (click to see the larger version)
One of the most distinctive sounds of spring at Montrose is the firing of fishing lines. Fishermen use fire extinguishers fitted with a pipe to propel their lines out into Lake Michigan. This setup functions like a canon, and the sound it makes is loud enough to startle you if you’re nearby. I’ve also noticed how close some waterbirds come to these fishing lines. I’ve seen Horned Grebes, Red-breasted Mergansers, and a Common Loon on one occasion swim right up to the lines. These birds may have been curious and looking for an easy meal. I can imagine a grebe or merganser getting tangled or grabbing the baited hook, which would be a mess for the fisherman and the bird. A tangled and thrashing Common Loon would be a worst case scenario. Loons are big enough and strong enough to do serious damage to a human trying to free them. They have sharp bills that can draw blood or poke out an eye. My guess is that fishermen would cut the line and lose their bait rather than try to free a struggling bird.
Common Loon zipping past Montrose Point (click to see the larger version)
We’ve been seeing Common Loons at Montrose for over a week. They start to appear in late March and remain regular through late April. Early April is about peak season for them. Sometimes they show up in the harbor, where they’re easy to admire and photograph on the water. More often we see them in flight over Lake Michigan or over the Point and always at a breakneck clip. The best way to describe a Common Loon is a missile with wings – pointed at the front, with a fast, powerful, and direct flight, like they’re in a hurry to get where they’re going. They look lethal on the wing; if one slammed into you, you probably wouldn’t survive. Double-crested Cormorants are similar in size and shape but aren’t as sleek and look ungainly compared to a loon. The nice thing about spring Common Loons is that they’re usually in beautiful breeding plumage when they make it to Chicago. From a distance this isn’t obvious but up close the white striping against the black neck stands out.
If you visit Montrose in April, keep your head on a swivel and look up. A Common Loon may be flying over.
March 26 saw an influx of migrants, most notably American Robins, blackbirds, and several types of sparrows. There were also good numbers of ducks on Lake Michigan, particularly Red-breasted Mergansers, and a few ducks moving north. This happens every spring when we get warm fronts and south winds. I tallied 46 species in a little less than 2 hours of effort, including a number of first of seasons. My highlights
A strong movement of northbound waterfowl occurred at Montrose this morning, March 30. Geoff Williamson and I stood at the end of the fishing pier for a couple of hours and watched flock after flock of diving and dabbling ducks moving north along Lake Michigan. Most were scaup and Redheads but we also had small numbers of Canvasbacks (uncommon at Montrose), Northern Pintails, Gadwall, American Wigeon, and smaller numbers of Northern Shovelers and Green-winged Teal. We also had a couple of Common Loons and Iceland and Great Black-backed Gulls. A group of White-winged Scoters (~12) was still on the lake off the end of the fishing pier. Link to my eBird checklist for the morning below.
American Bittern (click to see the larger version)
It’s axiomatic among Chicago lakefront birders that warm fronts with southwest winds in spring bring large numbers of migrants to the Chicago lakefront parks. That axiom was in full effect at Montrose Point today, April 12. I had the day off and spent a little over 3 hours at Montrose, tallying 69 species for my effort. Most impressive was the high volume of Eastern Phoebes, Hermit Thrushes, Yellow-rumped Warblers and other mid-spring migrants. I knew I was in for a good morning when I saw Northern Flickers and flocks of Yellow-rumped Warblers and American Robins coming in off Lake Michigan. I didn’t bird Montrose much in March because of the cold weather, so seeing all these migrants was a nice way to get back in the birding saddle.
Some of the other birds I saw at Montrose this a.m. include migrating Osprey and Northern Harriers, a lingering White-winged Scoter, American Woodcock, Wilson’s Snipe, Pectoral Sandpipers, Dunlin, migrating Common Loons, and a cooperative American Bittern. Link to my eBird checklist below.