This doesn’t look like typical Brown Thrasher habitat. During spring and fall, songbirds will sometimes land on the fishing pier at Montrose early in the morning after a night of migration over Lake Michigan. They don’t stay long and continue on to the more protected Dunes or Bird Sanctuary after a few minutes. Lingering on the pier can be dangerous for a small bird – Peregrine Falcons, Merlins, and gulls like an easy breakfast and won’t hesitate to hunt them.
It was a Peregrine kind of day at Montrose on October 13. This juvenile perched obligingly in a snag long enough to have its picture taken. We also had an adult Peregrine, which knocked a poor migrating Winter Wren out of the sky and into Lake Michigan.
The Peregrine Falcons weren’t the only highlight. October 13 was one of the best days of the fall at Montrose for passerine migration, with lots of Swamp Sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and kinglets. Bonus birds include American Avocet and three Franklin’s Gulls. I ended up with 52 species for the morning. Link to my eBird checklist below.
October 13, 2021
We see two different kinds of Peregrine Falcons at Montrose — local birds that were born in Chicago and birds that nest in the Canadian Arctic and pass through during migration. The local birds were introduced as part of a program to establish a breeding population in the city. These birds nest on skyscrapers and are part of a self-sustaining population. Most of the Peregrines that frequent Montrose are these local birds. We know this because they’ve been banded for identification and to keep track of their movements. The Peregrines that hunt from the tower on the fishing pier for example are local birds. We also see Peregrines that lack leg bands and show plumage characteristics of the subspecies that breeds in the Arctic, Falco Peregrinus Tundrius. These migratory Peregrines show up in late September and early October on their way south. The photo shows a probable juvenile Arctic or Tundra Peregrine. This bird lacks leg bands and is pale headed. Photographed at Montrose in September 2020.
Highlights from October 12 were an American Avocet that almost became brunch for 2 of the local Peregrine Falcons, and this male Merlin that took a break from terrorizing songbirds long enough to have his pic taken. I ended up with 47 species in 3 hours of birding. Link to my eBird checklist for the day below.
October 12, 2019
If you’ve been to Montrose you’ve probably noticed the structure due east on the horizon that looks like it’s floating on Lake Michigan. This is the Wilson Avenue Crib and it was part of the water distribution system for Chicago. The cribs pump water to the filtration plants, also along the lakefront. The filtration plants purify the water and distribute it to the city and nearby suburbs for consumption. The Wilson Avenue Crib is no longer operational but several species of birds are making good use of it. The dark shapes in the photos are Double-crested Cormorants and they nest on the crib. State endangered Peregrine Falcons have also nested there.
I took this photo with my digital camera and Questar telescope in June 2019, a technique known as digiscoping. To read more about how I digiscope, see the Digiscoping with a Questar page on my main birding website, The Orniphile. The Wilson Avenue Crib is about 2 miles offshore.
As I was leaving Montrose on Sunday I noticed some movement almost directly above me just under the canopy of a tall Honey Locust. When I looked with my bins I saw a juvenile Peregrine Falcon grasping a deceased Northern Flicker. The Peregrine had captured the Flicker and was eating it in comfort under the cover of the canopy. I took a few pics and let the bird eat breakfast in peace.