Turkey Vulture. Photo courtesy of Tamima Itani. (click to see the larger version)
It’s axiomatic among Chicago lakefront birders that southwest winds in spring produce lots of migrants. Today, March 8, reaffirmed that maxim. I ended up with 42 species in a couple of hours of birding, including a number of new birds for the year. Large numbers of blackbirds and Canada Geese were moving on the south winds, and we had a number of unusual sightings. Best for the morning were
I walked over to Montrose on December 31 for some end of year birding. It looked and felt like winter, with an inch of crusty snow on the ground and icy paths that made walking challenging in places. The winds were light and it wasn’t too cold, however, so the experience was pleasant for the season. I ended up with a respectable 22 species, the best being the continuing Lincoln’s Sparrow in the Magic Hedge. This is significant because Lincoln’s Sparrows don’t usually winter in Chicago. A thin veneer of ice was developing in Montrose Harbor, a portent of things to come. Lake Michigan was still ice-free, and on it were numbers of Red-breasted Mergansers and Common Goldeneye, two of our common wintering waterfowl (Common Merganser is the other). The local band of Black-capped Chickadees are in full begging mode; if you offer crushed peanuts or birdseed, the bolder ones will come in and take the morsels from your open hand. I also saw a couple of Cooper’s Hawks, including a close encounter with a perched adult.
Note that Montrose is closed to entry by car; if you drive you’ll have to park west of Lake Shore Drive and walk in. This won’t be onerous if the weather is decent but watch your footing. See the Montrose FAQ page for updated information about visiting the park.
Peregrine Falcon (click to see the larger version)
We see two different kinds of Peregrine Falcons at Montrose — local birds that were born in Chicago and birds that nest in the Canadian Arctic and pass through during migration. The local birds were introduced as part of a program to establish a breeding population in the city. These birds nest on skyscrapers and are part of a self-sustaining population. Most of the Peregrines that frequent Montrose are these local birds. We know this because they’ve been banded for identification and to keep track of their movements. The Peregrines that hunt from the tower on the fishing pier for example are local birds. We also see Peregrines that lack leg bands and show plumage characteristics of the subspecies that breeds in the Arctic, Falco Peregrinus Tundrius. These migratory Peregrines show up in late September and early October on their way south. The photo shows a probable juvenile Arctic or Tundra Peregrine. This bird lacks leg bands and is pale headed. Photographed at Montrose in September 2020.
Juvenile Cooper’s Hawk (click to see the larger version)
Only the shadow knows…
Juvenile Cooper’s Hawks are on the loose and raising hell in the city. This one was trying to be incognito in a brush pile. It wasn’t fooling anybody, bird or human. A pair of Cooper’s Hawks nested near Montrose during the summer; this individual is likely one of their progeny. When they make their way over to Montrose they terrorize everything smaller than them.
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
Northern Harrier (click to see the larger version)
The Northern Harriers put on quite a show on October 23. I counted 16, all southbound flybys, in about 2 hours of morning birding. Most were female/immature type birds, like the individual pictured here. Several were coming in low off Lake Michigan and flying right over the beach and dunes (and me). Other birds seen include Short-eared Owl, 3 Surf Scoters, Franklin’s and Bonaparte’s Gulls, Merlin, American Woodcock, Wilson’s Snipe, and Purple Finch. Link to my eBird checklist for the day below. October rocks!