Short-eared Owls (click to see the larger version)
If you were lucky enough to be at Montrose Dunes on the morning of November 10, you were treated to a dazzling aerial display of Short-eared Owls. Up to 5 were swooping, circling, and floppy flying over the Dunes and Lake Michigan. Most eventually settled down in the Dunes and disappeared from sight. This is about as many Short-eareds as we see at one time at Montrose. It’s also a reminder that November is an excellent month for owls. More photos of this morning’s Short-eared Owls are at my eBird checklist, URL below.
November is known for rare waterbirds but it’s also excellent for owls. Long-eared, Short-eared, and Barn Owls have been reported at Montrose this November and Northern Saw-whet is a good bet. If Snowy Owls are invading they usually start appearing around Thanksgiving. So, while you’re looking for Black-legged Kittiwakes on Lake Michigan, don’t forget to check the Dunes, woods, and shrubs for owls.
Weather forecast screenshot. From weather.com. (click to see the larger version)
A strong cold front will pass through northern Illinois late in the day on October 12. The backside winds will be from the west on October 13 and 14. These conditions are favorable for several birds at Montrose, including Franklin’s Gulls, Short-eared Owls, and possibly American Avocets and Smith’s Longspurs. We should also see an influx of typical mid October passerines.
Eared Grebe (upper left) with 2 Horned Grebes and a Red-breasted Merganser (click to see the larger version)
April 11 lived up to the billing and turned out to be an exceptional day for migrants, with about 80 species reported to eBird. The south winds overnight brought in a lot of birds, as south winds usually do in spring. Northern Flickers and Hermit Thrushes were conspicuous by their numbers. Bird of the day goes to the nearly full breeding plumaged Eared Grebe on Lake Michigan near the base of the fishing pier. The bird was close to shore and conveniently associating with a group of Horned Grebes for comparison. Eared Grebes are rare and not annual at Montrose. Other goodies include Merlin, Short-eared Owl, Eurasian Collared-Dove, and the late continuing male Long-tailed Duck along the fishing pier. Link to my eBird checklist for the morning below.
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.
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.