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.
The forecast for April 24 called for rain, so I planned on spending the day inside doing chores and such. When I woke up and checked the news, the forecast indicated most of the rain would occur south of Chicago, so I headed over to Montrose for some late April birding. Good choice as it turned out to be the best day of the spring so far. The trees and shrubs were dripping with Swamp and White-throated Sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Hermit Thrushes, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. Many of these birds were in the tops of trees feasting on swarms of small insects. I ended up with 66 species in almost four hours, and about 80 species were reported to eBird by all observers. I had multiple personal first-of-spring sightings. My highlights include
Willet – 3
White-faced Ibis – 1, first site record
Long-eared Owl – 1
Grasshopper Sparrow – 1
Northern Parula – 1
Pine Warbler – 1
The White-faced Ibis was on the protected beach early in the morning. It did not stay long. We’ve had multiple Long-eared Owls in the last week in what has been one of the best springs I can remember for them. Link to my eBird checklist for the morning below.
Virginia Rail on the revetment (click to see the larger version)
You know you’re doing well when you see a Short-eared Owl, two Long-eared Owls, and a Virginia Rail within a couple hours on the same day. All four were at Montrose on April 23. The Short-eared was flying over Lake Michigan, as Short-eareds are wont to do at Montrose during migration. The Long-eareds were roosting in vegetation and were pointed out to me by different people. The biggest surprise was the Virginia Rail. I saw it walking on the concrete revetment at the southeast corner of the Point, not exactly prime rail habitat. In addition to these morsels, there were also good numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. The southwest winds the night before did us and the birds good. Over 70 species were recorded by all observers on eBird, the highest daily total of the year so far. My eBird checklist has more photos, URL below.
Black-capped Chickadees brighten cold Chicago winter days with their energy and charm. They’re also good at finding roosting owls. Without the scolding of the local chickadees, I would have walked right by this Long-eared Owl. I said this before and it’s worth repeating: if you hear complaining chickadees, pay attention and see what they have. There might be a pleasant surprise waiting for you. Back in November, these chickadees found a Northern Saw-Whet-Owl for me.
The Long-eared Owl from April 1 was still at Montrose today, April 2. I guess it likes the area where it’s been. I managed to get one so-so photo of the bird. Long-eared Owls are rare at Montrose and always a treat to see (and photograph).
I had both Long-eared and Short-eared Owls this morning, April 1. The Short-eared Owl flushed from the dunes at the east end of the beach and flew out over the lake. This is fairly typical behavior for Short-eareds at Montrose. The Long-eared owl was roosting comfortably in the protected area on the east side of the Point. I saw nothing else of note.