Snow Buntings at Montrose Dunes, fall 2020. (click to see the larger version)
November is one of the most exciting months of the year at Montrose. The list of rarities found there in November is long and distinguished. As examples, an Ancient Murrelet, just the fourth record for Illinois, made an appearance in 2019, and in 2020 the fourth state record Cassin’s Sparrow delighted birders. General birding can be good too. Here are a few November birding tips:
Check the beach and Dunes for Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings. The buntings favor the more open areas of the Dunes, and the longspurs are usually flying over. Both will sometimes feed out in the open on the beach or even in the algae that washes up on the beach.
On days with brisk west winds, Short-eared Owls are a good bet in the Dunes. They usually kick up out of the denser vegetation and fly out over Lake Michigan.
With a little effort and luck, Northern Saw-whet and Long-eared Owls can be found in the peripheral plantings. Look for whitewash and listen for scolding, excited Black-capped Chickadees.
The fishing pier is an excellent place to scan Lake Michigan for loons, grebes, and waterfowl, either resting on the surface or in flight. Overcast days with light winds offer the best viewing conditions.
Northern Shrikes like the Dunes and more open areas of the Point. Look for them perched in the tops of trees or flying through, flashing their white wing and tail spots.
Black-legged Kittiwakes sometimes turn up, especially on days with northeast winds. They aren’t a sure bet but if you’re at Montrose on a day with easterly winds, pay attention to the gulls flying by. This applies for jaegers too.
Baird’s Sandpiper (click to see the larger version)
I wasn’t even going to bird this morning (November 4) because of rain in the forecast, but when I looked out my window at 7:30 I saw no rain, so I grabbed my gear and headed over to Montrose. I tallied a whopping 20 species for my effort, unimpressive even by early November standards. But, BUT, 25% of that tally consisted of good birds – Harlequin Duck (off the end of the fishing pier, found by Krzysztof Kurlyowicz), Black Scoter (2 flybys, found by Steve Huggins), Red-necked Grebe (flyby), Piping Plover, and Baird’s Sandpiper. The Baird’s (2 juveniles) represent one of the latest records of this species for Montrose, continuing the trend for late birds started by the Piping Plover.
I spent about 2.5 hours at Montrose this morning, March 19, most of that
time looking at the lake. The visibility was good and there were birds
to look at, both on the water and flying around. Except for blackbirds
and Robins, landbirds were scarce. My highlights (not a complete list):
Gadwall – ~12
American Wigeon – 5
Redhead – ~30
Lesser Scaup – ~20
Greater Scaup – 1
White-winged Scoter – ~20
Common Goldeneye – ~12
Bufflehead – ~7
Common Merganser – 1 adult male flying north
Red-breasted Merganser – ~300
Red-throated Loon – 2 flying north, both in basic type plumage
Common Loon – 1 alternate plumaged bird flying north
Horned Grebe – ~50, most on the lake but a few in the harbor
Eared Grebe – 1 alternate plumaged bird on the lake
Great Black-backed Gull – 1 first cycle
Glaucous/Iceland Gull – 1 near adult flying north
The Eared Grebe was a big surprise. I tried to turn it into something
more expected but everything about the bird said Eared Grebe. Somewhat
surprisingly it was in full alternate plumage; most of the Horned Grebes
today were still in basic plumage or transitioning into alternate
plumage. I also had a meadowlark in the Dunes that looked good for a
Western but I let it go.
I walked around Montrose for a bit this morning, February 8, and I can confirm that it still feels like winter. My most unexpected find was a Horned Grebe in the lake on the beach side of the fishing pier. I’m guessing this is an overwintering bird instead of an early migrant because of the date.
I also saw the 2 continuing female type Ruddy Ducks in the lake south of the Magic Hedge. They’re been in the same area for over a week so they must like that spot.
There were also several hundred gulls, mostly Ring-billeds, swarming over the open water at the west end of the harbor. I didn’t spend a lot of time looking through them so I could have missed something unusual. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, some kind of small fish are running in the harbor, which is what’s attracting the gulls.
I walked around Montrose for a little while this morning, December 3. My best find was the continuing female Long-tailed Duck in Lake Michigan near the tower at the southeast corner of the point. I haven’t seen her in a couple of days but I assume this is the same bird.
Other birds seen at Montrose this a.m. include 3 Ruddy Ducks in the lake outside of the harbor, 2 Horned Grebes inside the harbor, and a flyover Pine Siskin.
I heard and then saw a Common Redpoll at Montrose this morning, November 21 near the south end of the Magic Hedge. This is my first Common Redpoll of the season, but not the first Common Redpoll OF the season at Montrose, since Al Stokie had one back in late October.
In other news, winter ducks have finally (and I guess this is a good thing) arrived at Montrose. I walked out onto the fishing pier and had decent numbers of Common and Red-breasted Mergansers, as well as a few Common Goldeneyes and Buffleheads. Also, a group of Hooded Mergansers, a Redhead, and a Ruddy Duck. I did not see the Red-necked Grebe in the harbor, just Horned Grebes.