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.
Rails show up in the strangest places. Friend and fellow Montrose birder Dave Antieau alerted me to this Virginia Rail floating on Lake Michigan off the fishing pier on October 16. I’m guessing the bird was migrating over the lake and got chased into the water by marauding gulls or one of the local Peregrine Falcons and stayed there for its own safety. It also could have been stunned from striking the pier on its way in to shore. It’s a good thing rails can swim well.
I’ve found dead Soras and Virginia Rails on the fishing pier and concrete revetment at Montrose in the past. I think these birds crash into the pier and revetment as they’re coming into shore after a night of migration. They must not see these structures in the dark well enough to avoid hitting them. I’ve included a link to my eBird checklist for the morning below.
On a side note, all eight species of rails recorded in Illinois have also been recorded at Montrose. This includes Black Rail (2 records), Yellow Rail (multiple records), and Purple Gallinule (2 records). Not bad for a small park in one of the largest and most densely populated urban areas in the United States. The Montrose List page shows all the birds recorded at Montrose.
Purple Gallinule (click to see the larger version)
Fortuitous – Happening by a lucky chance; fortunate.
On the morning of September 23 I was walking on the footpath at the east end of Montrose Point as I usually do when I visit. This is one of my favorite places at Montrose as it provides a sweeping view of Chicago and Lake Michigan. Around 7:30 an unfamiliar, medium-sized bird flew over me, heading west, and moving fast. Right behind it and in hot pursuit was one of our local Peregrine Falcons. I thought the mystery bird may have been a Least Bittern or Green Heron. Whatever it was it just missed becoming breakfast for the Peregrine and crash-landed in some shrubs not far from where I was walking. I hurried over to where I thought the bird came down and after poking around found a juvenile Purple Gallinule about 10 feet up buried in dense vegetation. It appeared stunned from the near-death experience and didn’t move while I watched and photographed it. The bird stayed in the same spot for the rest of the day and was viewed and photographed by many. It was not seen after September 23. This is the second record of Purple Gallinule for Montrose. I’ve included a link to my eBird checklist for the day below.
Purple Gallinules breed in the southeastern United States, parts of Mexico and Central America, the Caribbean, and throughout much of South America. Birds in the southeastern United States are migratory and retreat to the American tropics and Florida for the winter. Assuming the bird was born in the US, the Montrose Purple Gallinule should have gone south instead of north, an example of mirror image misorientation. Purple Gallinule vagrancy is well-established; individuals occur regularly far out of range in North America.
Previous Purple Gallinule Records For Montrose Point
May 7 – 10, 1999 (adult). Meadowlark, A Journal of Illinois Birds, Volume 8, Number 4.
The King Rail continues at Montrose. This morning, June 14, I saw it walking and feeding in the grass and water next to the fishing pier at the base of the pier. It appeared to be healthy and put on quite a show for me. This is the first time I’ve seen this (presumably) continuing bird. Thanks to Andrew Aldrich for alerting me to its presence.
We also had a few late migrants and surprises, including Mourning and Blackburnian Warblers, Dickcissel, Orchard Oriole, Wood Thrush, and Bonaparte’s Gull. See? It pays to keep birding into June.
I spent a few hours birding Montrose this morning, October 15. There were good numbers of birds around, especially shorebirds. In fact, I had my best shorebirding day all fall (in terms of individuals) today. I ended up with 49 species total, highlighted by:
Surf Scoter – 3 immatures in the surf at the east end of the beach
Virginia Rail – 1 in the dunes
Sora – 1 in the dunes
Sanderling – ~30
Dunlin – ~30
Baird’s Sandpiper – juvenile
Pectoral Sandpiper – 2 juveniles
Greater Yellowlegs – 28
Lesser Yellowlegs – 1
Forster’s Tern – 3
Merlin – 1
Peregrine Falcon – 2
Lapland Longspur – 1
5 warblers – Yellow-rumped, Palm, Black-throated Green, Orange-crowned, and Tennessee
Bobolink – 1
The yellowlegs and Dunlin were using the large fluddle that has reformed on the beach, and the other shorebirds were feeding in the extensive algae on the beach at the shoreline. Unfortunately, the unleashed dogs running up and down the beach kept flushing most of the shorebirds; by the time I left few shorebirds were left.
I spent about 3.5 hours at Montrose this morning, May 1, and it was worth just about every minute. Passerines were in in good numbers; I had a number of goodies and FOSs. Shorebirds, however, were disappointing. I woke up extra early and made it the beach just before sunrise, but all I could muster were a few Spotted Sandpipers, probably the nesting birds, and a couple Killdeer, again probably the local breeding birds. I ended up with 78 species, highlighted by
Virginia Rail – 1 in the eastern panne
Sora – 3
Forster’s Tern – ~60, strong movement
Merlin – 1
Great Crested Flycatcher – 1
Eastern Kingbird – 5
All 5 regularly occurring swallows
Sedge Wren – 1 singing in the eastern panne
Gray-cheeked Thrush – 1
Wood Thrush – 2
Veery – 1
11 species of warblers, Blue-winged being the best
Clay-colored Sparrow – 1, thanks Phil
Lark Sparrow – 1
Blue Grosbeak – 1 immature male
Bobolink – 1
Bird of the day goes to the immature male Blue Grosbeak. I’ve only seen 2 or 3 BLGR at Montrose in my 35+ years birding there, so I was fairly excited. Link to my eBird checklist below.