“The Magic Hedge”
Montrose Avenue at Lake Michigan in Chicago, Illinois
A small bird creeps out of a thicket and is greeted by flashing lights and muffled whispers. Welcome to the celebrity life of a bird along the “Magic Hedge.”
A small finger curling out into the lake, Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary can boast in having over 300 species recorded, including some of the rarest birds ever recorded in the state. A small stretch of low-lying bushes and small trees on the west side of the sanctuary in particular have been a magnet for migrating songbirds and rarities. Some would say that the hedge seems to bring birds in like magic. The nickname for this spot is fitting: “The Magic Hedge.”
Besides the hedge, other parts of the sanctuary are magical as well. A pier that heads out into Lake Michigan is great for waterfowl. The beach brings in many shorebirds and has hosted rare wintering gulls, including the 2nd inland record in the United States for the Black-Tailed Gull. The dune habitat to the west of the shoreline can also produce good migrants.
Since 2001, the city of Chicago has recognized the significance of this area for birds and has put much effort into improving the land. Some improvements include a new stone walkway down to the beach and a dripper in the meadow that gives great close-up views.
Birds to See
Not known for its breeding bird population, Montrose is best visited during migration and winter. In spring and fall migration, flocks of passerines use Montrose as a stopover. During migration, Montrose can be crawling with birds. The meadow in the center of the sanctuary can hold large numbers sparrow in the right season. Every year, there are reports of Le Conte’s Sparrow in this meadow, many of them near the dripper on the western edge. Other sparrows seen are White-Crowned, Lincoln’s and Fox.
Circling around the meadow are clumps of shorter trees and brush that should be checked out in migration for songbirds. In winter, roosting owls have been found here including Northern Saw-whet.
If the hedge gets old, only a few steps northeast leads to a stone walkway to the hook pier. From the pier, scan the shoreline and open water for waterfowl. In spring and fall, many shorebirds stop at the beach offering great looks at species like Black-bellied Plover, American Golden Plover, Dunlin, and Least and Semi-Palmated Sandpiper. Wintering flocks of gulls can harbor some rarities, like the Black-headed Gull that spent the winter along the pier in 2006-07.
Going into the dunes provides ample chance of finding sparrows in spring and fall. There are sightings of Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow every year. The dunes also give birders the opportunity to see more uncommon sparrows for the area like Lark and Vesper. In winter, one could find Snowy Owl, Short-eared Owl, Snow Bunting and Lapland Longspur.
Birding Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary
In the early morning, it is best to start at the hedge when the light stirs up the bugs and resting birds begin to get active. A walk on both sides can produce many species in large quantities. Check the meadow as well for migrating sparrows and others. Be sure to stay on the trail, many birds are tired from migration and constant flushing can lead to stress and even death.
Next, take a walk down to the pier. Patient scanning along the lakeshore can produce many birds in migration and winter. Birds of interest seen off the pier include all the Scoters, Long-tailed Duck, and Red-throated Loon. Also, keep your eyes to the sky for a cruising Peregrine Falcon.
When birding the dunes, be careful not to walk directly through the sensitive vegetation. In fall-out conditions, the small clump of trees closest to the beach can hold many species of warbler, but be careful approaching them; these birds are tired. Remember to look here for the Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow during migration.
Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary, though small, really packs in a lot. If the birds don’t enthrall you, the atmosphere will. Magic certainly draws a crowd.
Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary can be found by following Montrose Avenue east until crossing Lake Shore Drive and into Lincoln Park. From there, take a right at the street next to the gray-colored bait shop. Follow the curve and Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary will be on your left. (Map)