The Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary

I’ve lived practically next door to the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary ever since we moved back to Chicago 14 years ago. In fact, I’ve driven right past it on most days for all those years. And yet, last week was the first time I actually went there.


That’s because I was looking for places to take the Midwest Meetup bloggers. We specifically needed some place along the lakefront between the Lurie Garden and Evanston at the north end of the city. Now I’m delighted to have found it, but kicking myself for not taking advantage of it all these years.

The Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary is famous among birders as a place to see numerous species of migratory songbirds. It offers a great deal more than that, though. There is a walk along the outer perimeter that offers stunning views of downtown Chicago.

DSC_0216You can also lose yourself watching sailboats skimming over the water.

The Sanctuary is a 13-acre restored natural area providing habitat for birds and butterflies. It began in the 1930s as a dream of architect Alfred Caldwell, a close collaborator of Jens Jensen. However, work on transforming the site didn’t begin until the late 1990s.

DSC_0212Much of the site is wooded, but during our recent visit we spent most of our time in the prairie areas.

DSC_0193Even though it’s late in August, there were still plenty of yellow prairie flowers in bloom.

DSC_0210A clump of some sort of Ironweed (Vernonia) stands tall to the left, and Prairie Dock (Silphium terabinthaceum) to the right.

DSC_0206A closer look at the Ironweed.

DSC_0200Some of the Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) was still in bloom, but most had mature seedheads, which looked good against the tall spires of Goldenrod (Solidago).

DSC_0196Joe Pye Weed (Eupatoriadelphus maculatum) provides contrast to the masses of yellow flowers.

DSC_0190Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale). I hate to admit this, but I think I prefer the various red-orange cultivars. Still, the straight species is a handsome plant.

DSC_0199A single stalk of Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos?) looks rather lonely among the masses of other flowers.

DSC_0173There was plenty of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) with fat seed pods.

DSC_0187A big clump of Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana) looked surprisingly vigorous in the sandy soil. I thought it needed wetter conditions.

DSC_0217On the north side of the sanctuary you will find an area of restored beach habitat. You can also see the high rise apartments of North Lake Shore Drive and the office buildings of downtown Evanston.

Now that we know what it’s like, we intend to make up for lost time by visiting the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary several times each year.

That’s all for now.

24 Comments on “The Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary”

  1. It sure looks different than when we used to go there to bird. That was mostly back in the early 90’s. It was more open then. As a gardener I really like the changes. I am sure the prairie is where there used to be just rows of shrubs where the birds would descend to rest when when came across the water or right before they took off to go across. The bad part was that at one point it got so there was homeless people sleeping under the shrubs. We had to be careful not to step on them or disturb them. I imagine that all the plantings makes for uncomfortable sleeping areas. We must go there sometime to see the differences in person.

  2. Seeing your photos makes me kick myself that I didn’t stroll through the prairie section. I was so mesmerized by the views of the lake that I didn’t want to leave the shoreline. Oh well, that will give me an excuse to go back on another trip to Chicago.

  3. What a lovely place! I have never been to Chicago, and in my mind it is a big city with all the usual suspects—tall buildings and lots of people. You have given me a very different view of the city, Many thanks!

  4. Joanna and I often go on weekends. Usually early. The birders are a hysterical lot – they LOVE their hobby, All dress in worn hiking clothes, carry some SERIOUS camera equipment, and are very sociable and will guide you to the secret spots, like the “Magic Bush” (or something like that).

    There were minor conflicts between the late night boys from boys town having trysts in the undergrowth and the very early birders. Several birders complained to Alderman Tunney, who explained that the park is for everybody!

    When you get to the breakwater there is a whole different sub-culture of fishermen, often from different countries around the world. In the early mornings they have to watch out for the bottles left by the late night drinkers. I know nothing about this group, as I am never up that late. Keep circling and now you are with the boaters, but, of course, the sailers and the motor boat people are very different from each other!

    All in all, it is a lovely area for morning walks, even in the dead of winter.

  5. I’m so sorry I missed this, but now you have convinced me I should try to get back to Montrose soon. For a birder I really don’t go there often enough to begin with but it occurs to me I’ve only visited in spring and wintertime. It is much improved with prairie area, I think, and I love the way the paths make it good for the birds and people.

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