Herring, Ring-billed, and Iceland Gulls (click to see the larger version)
The middle of January is about the slowest time of the year for birding at Montrose. If you see 20 species on a visit you’re doing very well. January 13, 2024 proved to be the best mid winter day of birding I’ve experienced at Montrose. I tallied 32 species in a couple hours of birding, and 41 species were reported to eBird by all observers for the day. My highlights include
Some of these birds were likely driven south by an approaching Artic cold front. The temperature on January 13 was in the 20s, but dropped below zero overnight and is expected to stay in this range for several days. Extreme weather events like this often produce extreme birding events.
November is known for rare waterbirds but it’s also excellent for owls. Long-eared, Short-eared, Snowy, and Northern Saw-whet Owls have been reported at Montrose as of November 12. So, while you’re dreaming about alcids and waiting for a Black-legged Kittiwake to fly by, don’t forget to check the Dunes, woods, and shrubs for owls. Look for whitewash, listen for complaining songbirds, and scan open areas for round white lumps.
Long-eared Owl – try to find it (click to see the larger version)
Several Long-eared Owls are attempting to overwinter at Montrose. If you look for them, please be discreet and exercise proper etiquette – give them plenty of space, be quiet, and don’t linger. These owls disturb easily and should be resting during the day. If they’re flying around, someone probably got too close and flushed them. Also remember to stay on trails and paths and out of roped or fenced off areas.
We’ve had a good fall and early winter for both Long-eared and Short-eared Owls at Montrose. Multiple birds have been recorded during this period, though Short-eareds were and usually are more numerous. This Long-eared Owl looked comfortable roosting in a stand of cedars. It’s hard to say if this individual is a recent migrant or an overwintering bird that’s been around for a few weeks. December 22, 2022.
A surprise Long-eared Owl was the highlight of an otherwise uneventful morning on December 1. Migration is largely over and bird activity has slowed down dramatically; birding at Montrose will be like this for the next three months. We could still get an unusual gull, duck, or grebe, and today’s Long-eared Owl shows that owls are possible, at least for a while. Also, Snow Buntings have been fairly regular in the Dunes and should remain so through December. Winter is the time to think about birding other, more productive places. As always, keep checking the Montrose Point eBird Hotspot for current sightings.
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.