Plover Watch 2019 - Gallery

Plover Watch 2019 - Gallery

Plover Watch is officially over now that the two remaining plover chicks have a officially fledged. Here’s a gallery to look back on the past two months of plover life at Montrose Beach.

Shorebird Rock Stars - original post April 15, 2019

Shorebird Rock Stars - original post April 15, 2019

This is a repost from the COS blog that originally was posted on April 15, 2019. We had no idea what was about to happen a mere two months after this was posted. We will be revisiting all of the information contained here at the end of the 2019 season, but for now, please enjoy this background information and context for this roller coaster of a summer.

Why I launched a Kickstarter for endangered piping plovers

Why I launched a Kickstarter for endangered piping plovers

By Bob Dolgan

Last December, I found myself in the midst of a career transition and looking to see as many bird species as possible. I was driving out to Chicago’s hinterlands regularly to add birds to my 2018 Illinois list. I also was visiting Chicago’s Montrose Point, a legendary birding locale that’s about three-quarters of a mile from home. I was up against the clock without much time left in the year and with a relatively small number of winter birds left to identify.

Then something unusual happened at Montrose Point: a piping plover showed up late in the season and didn’t seem interested in leaving for its wintering grounds on the Atlantic coast. Day after day it stayed at the beach, through cold, wind, rain and snow. What it was subsisting on still remains puzzling.

Great Lakes beaches in winter can be desolate. The sky is mostly a steel gray. It’s usually bitterly cold and the wind can cut right through even the most well-considered layering. It also can be beautiful. It’s often utterly silent except for the sounds of waves lapping the shore. The sunrises and sunsets are gorgeous. There were a few days where the only living creatures on the beach were birders and the piping plover, eventually dubbed “Dodger” for eluding a capture attempt by biologists.

Dodger at Montrose Beach in January 2019 Photo credit: Bob Dolgan

Dodger at Montrose Beach in January 2019
Photo credit: Bob Dolgan

Dodger finally moved on after ringing in 2019 at Montrose, but the experience stuck with me, as I’m sure it did with other birders.

Fast forward a few months, and I was steadily chalking up species for my 2019 Illinois list. The number of bird species and the overall volume of birds was plentiful during spring migration. Then as part of an exciting new career possibility, I traveled to northern Michigan, where I was to write about the native flora and fauna of the iconic Sleeping Bear Dunes. I was thrilled at the opportunity. I wasn’t thinking about piping plovers when park staff pointed me to a beach for part of my story. “Turn right into the parking lot and you can walk out on a nice beach there,” stated an email with directions. Soon I realized the beach was home to at least three piping plover nests and I managed to snap a bunch of pictures, pictures that worked for the story, too. The plovers had become a talisman of sorts.

Piping Plover at Sleeping Bear Dunes Photo credit: Bob Dolgan

Piping Plover at Sleeping Bear Dunes
Photo credit: Bob Dolgan

Then came a group text, sent to a bunch of serious Chicago birders on June 1: a pair of piping plovers were demonstrating nesting behavior at Montrose. I was at the site within a day, one of the busiest sections of the beach at Montrose, and soon signed up to monitor the nest. And I wasn’t alone. The presence of “Monty and Rose,” as the birds came to be called, drew a massive response from birders and non-birders alike who simply wanted to help protect the birds. Within a few days, at least 100 people had signed up to volunteer through a coordinated effort of Chicago Audubon Society, Chicago Ornithological Society and Illinois Ornithological Society.

One of the great outcomes of Monty and Rose nesting has been the opportunity to educate the public about the birds. People of all ages and all interest levels stop by to check out the nest. Some people have never heard of a plover. Other people have been coming to Montrose daily for years but have never stopped to look at birds. It’s taken on a life of its own, and I believe we now have a template to host these birds for years to come.

The last thing I’ll say is that this is not just about Monty and Rose but the protection of a wondrous ecosystem here on the southwest shore of Lake Michigan. Due to the efforts of amazing volunteers through many years, we have a true natural treasure in Montrose, one that should be celebrated. Montrose is right there with Cape May in New Jersey, Point Pelee in Ontario and Magee Marsh in Ohio. Somebody recently called Central Park in New York the top place to see migrating birds in the country. Pffft. Montrose dwarfs it in terms of the number of species seen, almost 350 to date.

Monty and Rose foraging at Montrose Beach Photo credit: Tamima Itani

Monty and Rose foraging at Montrose Beach
Photo credit: Tamima Itani

We have an opportunity to capture the imagination of all Chicagoans because of Monty and Rose and to provide lasting protection for Montrose Point. That’s why I enlisted a nature videographer to start filming Monty and Rose and the birds of Montrose Point. That’s why I launched a Kickstarter to get the funding for a documentary that tells the story of the phenomena in our midst. That’s why I hope you’ll make a small pledge so that this film becomes a reality.

Bob Dolgan is a Board Member of Chicago Ornithological Society. You can contribute to the Kickstarter by clicking here.

The Montrose Plover story is hitting the news wires - We're tracking them all here.

Dan's Feathersday Feature: Piping Plover - original post November 22, 2018

Dan's Feathersday Feature: Piping Plover - original post November 22, 2018

This was originally posted on the COS blog on November 22, 2018.

We humans are such creatures of habit.

When I was in college, at the start of a new semester I used to note where the others sat. I'd let a few weeks go by until the seating habits solidified. Then one day I'd get to class early, plop myself in another student's place, and watch the reaction when she (or he) entered the classroom and saw me there. The annoyance was usually very obvious, and sometimes funny, as the displaced student couldn't hide her discomfort at having to slide into a seat that was not "hers."  And it often cascaded, as each displaced person likewise displaced someone else. I would only play this game once per semester, letting the class return to equilibrium the next day. I told myself I was studying human nature, but actually I was just a bored college kid being a jerk.

For the Piping Plover, a similar game is being played on a grand scale, and it could be a matter of life and death for the species. Like most migrating shorebirds, the Piping Plover is a creature of habit. But the Piping Plover borders on OCD. Those that nest in the Great Lakes area spend the winter months hanging out in South Carolina and Georgia. Then when spring arrives, and it's time to head north to raise a family, they return to very specific strands of beach along the northernmost shores of Lake Michigan--so specific that mating pairs have been found returning year after year to build their nest within 150 feet of the same location as the previous years. If you have visited Michigan's Sleeping Bear Dunes, you know there are not very many landmarks in that vast expanse of sand. What an amazing feat!

But if a pair of Piping Plovers return in spring, and someone or something else is in their seat, it's more than just an inconvenience. It's likely that this pair will not find a different place to build their nest, and they will raise no offspring that year. In fact, that is exactly what has been happening--not just to the Piping Plovers that nest in the Great Lakes area, but to other populations in the upper plains and on the Atlantic coast. Habitat loss and disturbance have put this beautiful bird on the endangered species list; their numbers have dwindled to an estimated total of only about 10,000 birds.

Fortunately, the habits that imperil the Piping Plover may also be a source of their revival. Scientists who study these birds and work to protect them know exactly where to find them in the spring. Specific, targeted tracts of shoreline can be fenced off during the nesting season, to keep humans and dogs away--like putting a "Reserved" sign on a classroom seat. By protecting the Piping Plover's nesting areas from encroachment in this way, diligent research teams are giving the Piping Plover a leg up in its fight for survival. Isn't that what conservation is all about? It's nothing more than saving a seat for wildlife, and then sitting down beside them in our shared world.

Meet "Monty" and "Rose"!

Meet "Monty" and "Rose"!

A pair of Great Lakes Piping Plovers — an extremely rare species that is federally protected — have nested at Montrose Beach. And they have taken the birding world by storm since they were were first spotted in May. These instant bird celebrities, nicknamed “Monty” and “Rose”, will certainly have a rapt audience.

The pair have been observed courting and mating, giving bird conservationists hope that they will produced a clutch of eggs. Last year, the pair attempted to nest near Waukegan Beach, but they were unsuccessful.

If they produce a clutch, volunteers will keep watch to make sure the eggs stay safe at one of Chicago’s businest beaches. The Chicago Ornithological Society, Chicago Audubon Society, Fish & Wildlife Service, IL Department of Natural Resources and the Chicago Park District have all teamed up to help the endangered birds. A large area of the beach is roped off with signs that alert beachgoers to please stay away and not to disturb the birds.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed - and enjoy these two rarities during their Chicago stay!