Tag Archives: Owls

2022 Winter Birding Tips

Winter is the slow season at Montrose. You’d be doing well if you saw 20 species in a morning. As such, there are some things to do and birds to look for.

  • This is shaping up to be a good winter for Snowy Owls. As of mid January, many have been reported in the Chicago area, and several have been seen at Montrose. The best places to check for Snowies are the beach and Dunes and on the fishing pier, especially after it ices over. Note: Be careful as the paths and sidewalks can be covered in ice. This is especially true of the fishing pier. Sometimes this ice is thin and not easy to see, so-called black ice.
  • The fruiting trees are hosting numbers of American Robins and Northern Cardinals. That’s probably all you will see but there’s always a chance a more unusual frugivore will show up, like a Townsend’s Solitaire or Varied Thrush.
  • The open waters of Lake Michigan and the harbor are attracting numbers of ducks, mainly Red-breasted and Common Mergansers and Common Goldeneyes, but as long as the water remains open, an unusual duck, loon, or grebe is possible. Don’t forget to check the harbor mouth too.
  • Common Redpolls are showing up in big numbers in northeastern Illinois, and several have been seen at Montrose. Good places to look for them are weedy areas, like the Native Planting Area along the southeast corner of the Point.

As always, don’t forget to check the Montrose Point eBird Hotspot for current sightings.

Montrose Point eBird Hotspot

Snowy Owl and Long-tailed Ducks, December 21, 2021

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl (click to see the larger version)

A Snowy Owl was roosting on the end of the fishing pier early on the morning of December 21. This may be the same individual we saw on December 17 as both birds were heavily barred and had paler napes. The fishing pier is a popular location for Snowies when they are around – for this reason, you should always scan it in winter. Unfortunately the pier is also popular with humans while it’s ice free, a fact today’s Snowy found out when an unobservant jogger ran to the end of the pier and flushed it.

As exciting as the Snowy Owl were the 8 Long-tailed Ducks that flew in and landed on Lake Michigan off the end of the fishing pier. Seven of these Long-tailed were striking adult males in their gray and white winter garb. Long-tailed Ducks are regular at Montrose, but seeing a large group of adult males so close to shore is unusual, as well as unforgettable.

Another photo of the Snowy and 3 of the Long-tailed Ducks are at my eBird checklist for the day, URL below.

eBird Checklist
December 21, 2021

Snowy Owl, Finally, December 17, 2021

Sandhill Crane

Snowy Owl and House Sparrow, December 17, 2021. (click to see the larger version)

Not unexpected but perhaps a bit tardy, the first of what will hopefully be many Snowy Owls made an appearance at Montrose on December 17. Snowies can show up almost anywhere. In the past we’ve seen them on the fishing pier, on the stardocks inside the harbor, on top of light poles, at the beach and Dunes, and on the light tower at the harbor mouth. As always, please be discreet when viewing and photographing these birds and give them plenty of space.

In the picture, note the photobombing House Sparrow, or is the Snowy photobombing the House Sparrow?

Weather and Birding Forecast, November 12 – 14, 2021

A strong cold front will move through Chicago over the weekend of November 12 – 14. Daily high temperatures will be in the low 40s and winds will be westerly, at least for Saturday and Sunday, and in the 10 to 15 mile per hour range. This is an excellent setup for a late fall push of birds. These conditions often produce Short-eared Owls and Franklin’s Gulls, and we could see a few hawks migrating down Lake Michigan, especially Northern Harriers. Sandhill Cranes also move on these conditions, though we rarely see large numbers of them at Montrose. There’s always the possibility of something extraordinary showing up – it is November after all.

November Cometh

Snow Buntings

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.

See the Montrose Glossary page for descriptions of the locations mentioned above.

April 24, 2021 – Quite the Day

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.

eBird Checklist
April 24, 2021