Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Celebrity Watch: Monty and Rose Return to Chicago

Rose (left) and Monty, 24 July 2019.
Photo copyright 2021 by Susan Szeszol. All rights reserved.

On 25 April 2021, a female Piping Plover who had just returned north to Montrose Beach in Chicago was confirmed to be Rose, the famous Piping Plover who successfully nested there in 2019 and 2020. She had been seen this winter at Anclote Key Preserve State Park in Florida, 1,137 miles away. On 26 April, her mate Monty showed up—he’d spent the winter in Bolivar Flats in Texas, about 970 miles away.  After taking separate vacations, Chicago’s famous celebrity love birds have returned for another season!

Birders in Chicago and the wider world are elated. I have a deeply personal reason for being so joyful. My uncle and godfather lived in an apartment overlooking Montrose beach—he loved fishing in the harbor, and I loved spending time with him out there. When he was dying of cancer, I stayed with him and my aunt for several weeks. When I needed to decompress, I took the pedestrian tunnel under Lake Shore Drive for a few peaceful moments, and when I got back, he always wanted to hear what birds I saw. I feel intensely happy that one of my favorite birds of all is nesting in that place that he and I loved so dearly. 

The birds originally paired up in 2018 before they had been given their names. They tried to nest in Waukegan that year, but without luck. In 2019, they tried out Montrose Beach. That was a dramatic summer—their first clutch of eggs failed, and an impending storm inundated that spot anyway. They relocated to higher ground on the dunes but then were threatened by a huge, planned music festival on the beach. Chicagoans rallied to their rescue and the festival was moved. 

Rose and one of the chicks, 24 July 2019.
Photo copyright 2021 by Susan Szeszol. All rights reserved.

After all that drama, Monty and Rose managed to fledge two chicks—the first baby Piping Plovers to hatch in the city since 1955. In 2020, the pandemic protected them from too much human pressure; three of their chicks survived.  During both years, and now in 2021, a cadre of volunteer Piping Plover Monitors spend each day at the beach. One of my dear friends, Susan Szeszol, serves as one of these monitors. She explains: 

We work to protect the plovers by trying to keep off leash dogs away from the plovers, trying to steer people from entering the protected areas, removing dead birds/animals, and we educate the public by answering questions and providing information on the plovers.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administers the Endangered Species Act, and protects the Montrose Plovers in collaboration with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Chicago Park District, and volunteers from Chicago Ornithological Society, Chicago Audubon Society, and Illinois Ornithological Society.  

Susan Szeszol monitoring plovers in 2021 

Last month, the Chicago Park District announced the expansion of the Montrose Dune Natural Area. An additional 3.1 acres will be added to the current 12.8 acres of  habitat, located on the eastern end of Montrose Beach. This expensive project was funded by generous donors and returns from a great movie about the birds, Bob Dolgan's Monty and Rose

I have a bazillion photos of Piping Plovers, but somehow two such important celebrities deserve to be shown as individuals, and Susan generously shared her own photos of Monty and Rose for this blogpost.  

Monty, 24 July 2019.
Photo copyright 2021 by Susan Szeszol. All rights reserved. 


Rose, 2 August 2019.
Photo copyright 2021 by Susan Szeszol. All rights reserved.

One of Monty and Rose's chicks, 24 July 2019.
Photo copyright 2021 by Susan Szeszol. All rights reserved.

One of Monty and Rose's chicks, 24 July 2019.
Photo copyright 2021 by Susan Szeszol. All rights reserved.

I’m a true Chicagoan, born and bred in the city. My dad and uncle were Chicago firefighters, my Grandpa taught me to love the Cubs and Ernie Banks, and many of my seminal experiences with birds happened right in the city, from falling asleep to the happy chattering of House Sparrows as a little girl to seeing my very first Snowy Owl as Russ and I walked along Lake Shore Drive, close to Montrose Beach, when I was a new birder. But I’ve lived away from the city for 50 years. It took Monty and Rose to inspire me to join Chicago Audubon—one of the organizations working tirelessly to protect this magical spot of natural habitat and these two wonderful birds. Lots of individuals are helping, too—with financial contributions to fund beach protection and cleanup, field research, purchase a bit more land to restore more habitat, and so much more, and they help with their time volunteering as monitors and community outreach. All this for two lovely little birds, the five babies they’ve sent out into the world already, and the babies they will raise in the future. It really does take a village to keep young ones safe. 

One of Monty and Rose's chicks, 24 July 2019.
Photo copyright 2021 by Susan Szeszol. All rights reserved.

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