Great Black-backed Gull (click to see the larger version)
Avian activity has slowed considerably at Montrose. I’ve been topping out at about 20 species on my two hour morning visits since December 1. Things won’t improve much until late February when spring migration begins, and if the harbor and Lake Michigan freeze it will only get worse. Common Mergansers and Common Goldeneye, the two main wintering ducks, haven’t arrived yet in numbers because of the mild weather we’ve been experiencing. They’ll start to show up when it gets seriously cold. The big flocks of Red-breasted Mergansers from November have pulled out. Lake Michigan now feels lifeless and empty without them. Common Redpolls are still around but for how long is anyone’s guess. Most of the sparrows from mid-November have left, with only Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows remaining. Despite the doldrums, we have had a few interesting species. An adult light morph Snow Goose has been keeping company with Canada Geese. Scan any group of Canada Geese if you’re looking for it. You could also find other uncommon geese like Cackling or Greater White-fronted by looking through the Canadas. An American Black Duck, an unusual bird for Montrose, has been with Mallards, usually in the harbor. On December 4 I saw an immature Great Black-backed Gull on the public beach. As always, check the Montrose Point eBird Hotspot for current sightings.
Suggestions for Winter Birding at Montrose
I have some suggestions for winter birding at Montrose. As long as the harbor remains open it’s worth checking for waterfowl, gulls, and grebes. Long-tailed Ducks, scoters, Red-necked and Western Grebes, and several unusual gulls have been seen in the harbor in early winter. Once the harbor freezes over this won’t be an option. The hawthorns near the restroom building on the south side of the harbor are full of berries as of early December. On December 4 I had American Robins, European Starlings, and a few House Finches gorging on these berries, and something rare like a Pine Grosbeak or Bohemian Waxwing is possible while the berry supply lasts. Finally, 2020 isn’t shaping up to be a flight year for Snowy Owls but a few could still show up. The best places to look for them are the beach, Dunes, and fishing pier.
Purple Finch, one of the winter finches (click to see the larger version)
Winter Finch – A collective term that refers to Arctic, subarctic, and boreal forest breeding members of the family Fringillidae. This includes redpolls, Pine Siskin, crossbills, Pine and Evening Grosbeaks, and Purple Finch.
This continues to be an excellent fall for winter finches in the Midwest. Common Redpolls, Pine Siskins, and Purple Finches are being seen almost daily at Montrose. Even more exciting were reports of two of the rarer winter finches. On November 3, I found 10 White-winged Crossbills in a spruce tree near the Park Bait Shop (at the corner of W. Montrose Avenue and W. Montrose Harbor Drive), and several observers saw an Evening Grosbeak on November 5. According to eBird, the last White-winged Crossbills from Montrose were in 2012. The last Evening Grosbeak record was about 20 years ago. The rest of the fall should see more of these birds. The Montrose Map page has an interactive map that shows the road system at Montrose.
How to Look for Winter Finches at Montrose
There are a couple of ways to look for winter finches at Montrose. We don’t have a lot of finch habitat but we have some. The pine and spruce trees south of the main entrance of the Sanctuary on W. Montrose Harbor Drive have cones that could attract crossbills. The hawthorns on the service road to the beach house are laden with berries. We’ve been seeing Purple Finches in these hawthorns and they could attract Pine and Evening Grosbeaks. The pine and spruce trees next to the Park Bait Shop don’t have many cones but could attract crossbills and are easy check. Redpolls like weedy areas such as the native planting areas at the south and east end of the Point and north of the Marovitz Golf Course.
I didn’t have great expectations for October 31. The forecast called for south winds and south winds in late October never produce many birds at Montrose. Despite the unfavorable weather conditions, I was pleasantly surprised by what I did see. A couple of dead salmon washed up on Montrose Beach that attracted the attention of some Herring Gulls, which attracted the attention of a juvenile Iceland Gull. This was my first Iceland Gull of the season. Another birder alerted me to a scoter on Lake Michigan off the beach that turned out to be a Surf Scoter, another first of the season. The biggest surprise was a late Wood Thrush, the latest Wood Thrush I’ve had at Montrose, and probably anywhere else. Rounding out the list were four Common Redpolls and a couple of Snow Buntings. I tallied 37 species in three hours of birding. My eBird checklist for the morning has photos of the Iceland Gull and Surf Scoter. Follow the URL below to see it.
Two Common Redpolls were at Montrose on October 30. These were the first of hopefully what will be many more this season. Both were feeding in weeds on the side of the path between the Golf Course Pond and harbor. This is forecast to be an excellent fall and winter for finches. We’ve already had record numbers of Pine Siskins and good numbers of Purple Finches. To see redpolls at Montrose, check any weedy area, such as the native planting areas at the east end of the Point or north of the Golf Course. Link to my eBird checklist for the day below.
I had a Rough-legged Hawk fly south over Montrose Point this morning. Rough-legged Hawks are rare at Montrose; I think I’ve seen fewer than 10 in the 35+ years I’ve been birding there. I saw the bird just after sunrise and it was a couple of hundred feet high so it must have started migrating in the dark.
Other birds seen at Montrose this chilly a.m. include:
American Pipit – 2
Fox Sparrow – 2
Savannah Sparrow – 1
Lapland Longspur – 5
Snow Bunting – ~8
Common Redpoll – 3
Pine Siskin – 1
It was so cold this morning the lake was steaming, something we usually don’t see until well into winter.
Lake Michigan Steaming (click to see a larger version)
Black-legged Kittiwake. Photo by Geoff Williamson. (click to see a larger version )
One doesn’t usually associate Black-legged Kittiwakes with strong west winds on the west side of Lake Michigan but this morning a first year Black-legged Kittiwake flew south past Montrose Point, delighting the several people who were conducting a lakewatch at the end of the fishing pier.
Other birds seen on today’s westerlies include about a dozen Franklin’s Gulls (a more expected species on strong west winds), numbers of Bonaparte’s Gulls, several Northern Harriers, an American Woodcock, and a few Lapland Longspurs and Common Redpolls.