Monty died unexpectedly on May 13, 2022, thus ending the saga of Chicago’s first nesting Piping Plovers in over 50 years. The Dunes habitat is protected and intact, so perhaps another pair of Piping Plovers will find their way to Montrose and try to nest.
An immature Franklin’s Gull graced Montrose Beach on May 5. Franklin’s Gulls are uncommon but regular spring migrants at Montrose; most occur in late April and early May. The best way to look for them is to scan the flocks of gulls and terns that gather on the beach. This advice also applies to other, less common gulls, like Laughing, which also start to appear in late spring.
On a related side note, you should think about checking the beach in the afternoon and evening, especially the protected beach. Gulls, terns, and shorebirds settle down later in the day and you could find something unusual among the more common Herring and Ring-billed Gulls. The protected beach is fenced off on all sides and inaccessible to people and dogs, so the birds that end up there feel safer and tend to hang around.
For the third consecutive year, Monty and Rose, our famous Piping Plover couple, nested and raised a family. This is an enormous conservation success story by any measure, the first time Piping Plovers have nested in Chicago in over 50 years.
The wide sandy beach at Montrose is near perfect Piping Plover habitat, but Montrose is far from ideal as a nesting location. Montrose is one of the most popular beaches in Chicago; all that human activity makes life difficult for any bird that nests on the open beach, like Piping Plovers do. The human animals aren’t the only challenge the plovers face. Montrose is also home to several mammalian predators, including Striped Skunks and Racoons, and they aren’t above preying on Piping Plover eggs. In fact, in 2021, a skunk ate some of the eggs from Monty and Rose’s first clutch. As if the mammalian predators weren’t enough, Montrose also hosts Peregrine Falcons, Cooper’s Hawks, Great Blue Herons, and gulls, all capable of dispatching the plovers and their young. With all these threats it’s a miracle Monty and Rose are able to nest and raise a family. The hard truth is that without human involvement the chances of them nesting successfully are small. Part of the beach got fenced off to keep people out in case Monty and Rose decided to nest there in 2021. Like the beach, the Dunes got fenced off to keep people out when Monty and Rose chose to nest there. To protect the eggs form predators, a steel cage was placed over the nest. Even with a cage a determined skunk managed to slip through and pilfer the eggs, forcing Monty and Rose to start over. A new, larger cage prevented this from happening again. To deter avian predators, biologists stationed a trap baited with a live pigeon in the Dunes. On top of all this, a cadre of dedicated volunteers spent hundreds of hours monitoring the plovers.
So the question is, is all this effort worth it? Is all the inconvenience worth it? I led field trips to Montrose in the spring of 2021 and I would take my guests down to the beach and Dunes, where I talked about the nesting Piping Plovers and the efforts to protect them. On one trip a client remarked “All this for a couple little birds?” It’s a legitimate question to ask. I think the answer is a resounding yes. Monty and Rose became celebrities in Chicago, raising awareness of their struggle and the plight of Piping Plovers on the Great Lakes. Their story was mentioned in the news and it became impossible not to sympathize with them. Their story also raised awareness of Montrose and how important it is for wildlife, especially the fragile Dunes.
The story of Monty and Rose is a story of hope and struggle, of people from different backgrounds working together to give a pair of underdogs a fighting chance at raising their kids in a not always hospitable environment. We look forward to their return.
It was a Peregrine kind of day at Montrose on October 13. This juvenile perched obligingly in a snag long enough to have its picture taken. We also had an adult Peregrine, which knocked a poor migrating Winter Wren out of the sky and into Lake Michigan.
The Peregrine Falcons weren’t the only highlight. October 13 was one of the best days of the fall at Montrose for passerine migration, with lots of Swamp Sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and kinglets. Bonus birds include American Avocet and three Franklin’s Gulls. I ended up with 52 species for the morning. Link to my eBird checklist below.
October 13, 2021
American Avocets are strange birds. At Montrose, we see them from late April to early November and every month between. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to this pattern – they show up when they show up. The only other shorebird with such a broad range of temporal occurrence is Killdeer. These four American Avocets graced Montrose Beach on October 11. Link to my eBird checklist for the day below.
October 11, 2021
I spent about three hours birding Montrose on September 7 and it was time well spent. I tallied 51 species for my effort and saw a number of personal first of season birds. According to eBird, almost 80 species were recorded by all observers. Swainson’s Thrushes have arrived and they seemed to be everywhere. The dogwood north of the Magic Hedge and the cherry trees in the meadow were flush with them. My highlights include
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Additionally, swarms of Chimney Swifts were moving south over the Point. I estimated 600 but that total is likely conservative. Link to my eBIrd checklist for the day below.
September 7, 2021