People standing on the shelf ice at Montrose Beach (click to see the larger version)
It’s mid winter and shelf ice has formed along the shoreline of Montrose Beach. This is typical. What you need to know is that walking on shelf ice is dangerous. The ice could collapse under your feet, taking you into the frigid water of Lake Michigan, where you’d have a hard time getting out. The two people in the photo walked onto the shelf ice at Montrose Beach on February 6, 2023. They were obviously unaware of the danger they were in.
If you visit Montrose this winter, stay off the shelf ice.
Presumed Zebra Mussel shell from Montrose Beach (click to see the larger version)
Almost every square foot of Montrose Beach has Zebra or Quagga Mussel shells. These invasive, non-native mollusks have altered the ecology of Lake Michigan and created problems for commerce. It’s hard to believe something so small can create so much trouble for people and the environment. One positive aspect of their presence is that they provide food for several species of duck, like Common Goldeneye and Greater Scaup.
The photo shows a presumed Zebra Mussel shell. The shell is bleached from exposure to the sun and blowing sand, but you can still see how this species got its name. The next time you’re at Montrose Beach, try finding both Zebra and Quagga Mussel shells. The Nature Spot website has a great section on how to identify the two.
Herring and Ring-billed Gulls feeding in the algae mat at Montrose Beach (click to see the larger version)
The title of this post sounds like the title of a horror or monster movie — “Return of the Green Gunk!” On December 14 I was pleasantly surprised to find an extensive algae* mat at the east end of Montrose Beach. This algae mat developed when a powerful early winter storm churned up Lake Michigan and dumped large amounts of the stuff on the beach. I also noticed a group of Herring and Ring-billed Gulls picking through the algae for food. From what I could tell, and from what I’ve seen in the past, the gulls were hunting crayfish that washed in with the algae. Why does this matter? Because groups of active, feeding gulls attract more gulls that could include something unusual. Now that winter is here, there are multiple, possible rare gulls to consider. The algae could also attract a rare shorebird like a Purple Sandpiper or Red Phalarope. So if you venture out to Montrose this winter don’t forget to check the beach, and if there’s an algae mat, check it too. Once the beach gets covered in ice the algae mat won’t be accessible to gulls and shorebirds.
Only a birder gets excited about algae mats, right?
Longnose Gar in Montrose Harbor (click to see the larger version)
Continuing the fish theme this summer, I saw and photographed a Longnose Gar in Montrose Harbor on July 13. Gar are distinctive as a group but specific identification can be challenging (and I’m hardly a fish expert). My gar was about 2 feet long and had heavy, dark spotting on the body. It was swimming slowly and close to the surface, enabling me to get diagnostic photos. After some research, I narrowed down the options to Spotted and Longnose Gar, and after sharing the photos online several fish experts weighed in and confirmed it as a Longnose Gar. This is the first gar of any kind I’ve seen on Lake Michigan and the most unusual fish I’ve seen at Montrose. More photos are on my Facebook page, URL below. Also, see the Fish Archives on this blog for more fish stories from Montrose.
You may have heard or even noticed that the water level on Lake Michigan is very high this summer. According to NOAA, it’s at a 22 year high and near the all-time high. I took this photo at the mouth of Montrose Harbor in July 2020. The water is so high it’s spilling over the piers at the harbor mouth. In past years fishermen would be using these piers; the only creatures using the piers now are waterfowl and gulls.
Black Crappie in Montrose Harbor (click to see the larger version)
The fish in Montrose Harbor are taking advantage of the decrease in human activity and putting on a show. I’ve been checking the north side of the harbor on my morning walks and I’ve noticed an abundance and variety of fish I didn’t notice before Chicago closed the lakefront parks. Some of the different species include Black Crappie (a Montrose first for me), numbers of Smallmouth Bass and Freshwater Drum, and the ever-present Common Carp. Some of the carp are huge. I’ve also seen large schools of smaller fish, either Alewife or Smelt. It’s noteworthy that Montrose Harbor is far from being a pristine body of water. The many boats release gasoline into the water and there’s often garbage floating on the surface and debris in the water. Despite this, aquatic life is thriving. More fish photos from Montrose Harbor are on my Facebook page, URL below. Also, see the Fish Archives on this blog for more fish stories from Montrose.