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.
Always exciting to see, I had an immature Northern Shrike on October 13, 2020. We know the bird is immature because of the brownish upperparts and indistinct face mask. Adult Northern Shrikes have gray upperparts, black wings, and a more distinct dark face mask. This is the first Northern Shrike of the season at Montrose. Hopefully, we’ll get more! Link to my eBird checklist for the morning below.
Montrose wasn’t quite as birdy (for me) as on Thursday, but it was still pretty good today, October 21. I ended up with 47 species in a little over 2 hours of effort, highlighted by
Baird’s Sandpiper – the continuing juvenile
Semipalmated Sandpiper – the continuing molting first cycle bird
Short-eared Owl – 1 in the dunes
Northern Shrike – 1 in the dunes
Black-throated Blue Warbler – female near the Magic Hedge
Le Conte’s Sparrow – 2 in the dunes
The Northern Shrike was my bird-of-the-day; I haven’t seen one at Montrose in a few years. Maybe this will be a flight year for them. The algae mat continues at the east end of the beach, and it continues to attract shorebirds and ducks. The dominant passerine was Swamp Sparrow.
I had a brief look at a Northern Shrike at Montrose this morning. Northern Shrikes are rare anytime at Montrose so this was a nice surprise. There were also good numbers of typical October birds, including Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Hermit Thrushes.
The most dramatic sighting of the morning was a Red-tailed Hawk being mercilessly harassed and pursued by a group of American Crows. The group name for American Crow is “murder of crows”, and watching this spectacle I can see how this name originated.
I went back out later in the day and found a Snow Bunting on Montrose Beach. Snow Buntings are songbirds that nest in the high arctic all around the world and winter in mid-latitudes. This bird hopped up on a fence post and posed very obligingly for me.