I've been involved in an effort to protect Chicago's endangered piping plovers throughout 2019, as a volunteer, a Board member of Chicago Ornithological Society and as a documentary filmmaker. I addressed the Chicago Park District's Board of Commissioners during their monthly meeting today at their headquarters. Here's what I said.
Good afternoon. My name is Bob Dolgan and I’m a Board member of Chicago Ornithological Society and dad to two young daughters who frequently visit Montrose Beach. I’ve also made a short documentary, “Monty and Rose,” about the federally endangered piping plovers that nested at Montrose Beach this summer—one pair out of only 71 pairs left in the world. The film has played to seven local screenings, five of which have sold out and led to Governor Pritzker declaring November 18, 2019, Piping Plover Day in Illinois.
When Monty and Rose began scratching their nests, it was a stunning moment in Chicago’s natural history. For 64 years, these birds, the gray ghosts of Great Lakes beaches, had been missing from Chicago. Now they had returned, much to the surprise of the entirety of the birding community. We dropped everything to be there and stand guard around their very vulnerable nests. A few days later we learned of the Mamby on the Beach music festival being scheduled for Montrose Beach for the third week of August. It felt as though the rug was pulled out from under us. The festival certainly would be a conflict for the up to two dozen shorebird species that would be stopping on the beach for migration at the same time.
Montrose Beach is a top three birding destination in eastern North America in terms of the number of species observed, 346. It’s the top birding destination in ALL of North America when accounting for its relatively small size. It’s become an even more incredible place because of the longtime efforts of habitat restoration volunteers led by the indomitable Leslie Borns, and because the Park District has invested in it. People come from all over the Midwest and the suburbs to visit Chicago, to visit Montrose, to watch birds. Four weeks ago today, an ancient murrelet, a seabird of the craggy coasts of the Pacific Northwest, showed up at Montrose. One hundred and four birders from across the state arrived on a moment’s notice to observe the bird on a dreary November day. That’s just one example of a lot of people coming into the city to watch birds.
We need to recognize that the dunes, savannas and wetlands on the southern end of Lake Michigan existed long before us. Birds still utilize the patchwork of what’s left. That’s why we’re asking that the Park District create a policy for large events at Montrose, so that we can again be the City in a Garden.