Word began to spread about their long-awaited return.
He hadn’t been spotted at his Texas home and the winds were right for travel. She was known to take off around the same time from her Florida island, sometimes arriving before him. Wishes of safe flights came in from across the country as Chicagoans itching to catch an early sight made plans to head to the beach.
By Thursday afternoon, Monty, the Great Lakes piping plover, was back in Chicago.
Now, birders are waiting for Rose.
The endangered shorebird pair chose Montrose Beach as their summer nesting spot three years ago, going on to break records, fledge chicks and serve as symbols for a city as hopeful and hardscrabble as two birds, individually weighing less than a stick of butter, who picked an urban beach to save their species.
Monty, sporting his breeding plumage, wasn’t spotted earlier in the week at his Texas wintering grounds, where he touched down in August after a journey that took at most 53 hours. In previous years, Rose has arrived in Chicago first, en route from a Florida island off the Gulf Coast.
Together they’ve flown more than 2,000 miles upon the first signs of spring to make it back to Chicago. Last year they arrived in the final days of April, the year before on the cusp of May.
“It’s like your kids coming back from college,” said Tamima Itani, of the Illinois Ornithological Society and a leader in Chicago’s plover effort.
Birders have been preparing for the plovers with a full monitoring schedule in place, a cleaned-up habitat ready to go and the knowledge that there will likely still be some surprises ahead.
On Thursday at Montrose, a female plover joined Monty — but it wasn’t Rose. Monty was seen engaging in courtship displays with the unbanded bird, leaving viewers wondering if a soap opera might be in store for the summer. As stormy weather settled in Friday, there was still no word of Rose.
Monty and Rose met on a Waukegan beach when they were less than a year old and returned to the suburb in 2018 for an initial nesting attempt that was a flop.
In 2019, they became the first plover pair to nest successfully in Chicago in a generation. Their story gained traction in a David and Goliath saga that pitted the little birds against potential human disturbance on the scale of a multiday beachside EDM fest. The music festival was called off and the birds prevailed, but in following years the pair faced more natural challenges.
They’ve come to represent a conservation success story for a species once down to about a dozen nesting pairs, their efforts aided by Great Lakes habitat restoration and Chicagoans who’ve guarded the beach night and day, scaring away predators and raising awareness about why someone should care about two shorebirds in the first place.
“The agony and the ecstasy of monitoring,” birder Eden Essex called it last year.
Monty and Rose fledged two chicks in their first summer at Montrose. The next year, during the lakefront shutdown, they fledged three.
Last summer at Montrose offered more beach space as lake levels lowered and the Chicago Park District created a habitat expansion. Monty and Rose fledged two chicks — Imani and Siewka — after a skunk incursion resulted in their first nest being devoured.
Armand Cann, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said lessons were learned from the ordeal and the nest enclosure is updated for this season. The agency has also worked with the Park District to get the habitat in shape. Various stakeholders will be on the lookout for storms, predators and yet unforeseen hurdles.
“We can’t predict everything that’s going to happen but we’re going on the fly and making sure they hopefully have a successful nesting season,” Cann said.
Last year’s Great Lakes plover season exceeded goals, with 74 nesting pairs and 123 wild chicks fledged — the highest count since 2018. The total included three offspring of Nish, one of Monty and Rose’s 2020 chicks who went on to father the first Ohio nest in more than 80 years. Nish was seen with Rose on her Florida island last fall.
Monty, Rose and progeny, including Nish, signal that more plovers may settle in urban areas, Cann said.
“In an idealistic way, I really hope one day, maybe this year, maybe another year, that we’re able to gain a second pair,” Cann said. “Whether that’s going to be at Montrose, Rainbow Beach, Illinois Beach State Park or maybe even Indiana Dunes.”
Last season’s success bodes well for this summer’s nesting numbers.
“I’m really optimistic about what some of the sites are going to be looking like around the Great Lakes,” said Jillian Farkas, the Great Lakes piping plover recovery coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
There’s no word yet on Monty and Rose’s chicks, but some additional plovers have appeared in Chicago in recent days.
One banded plover showed up at Rainbow Beach on the South Side. The female, hatched at Sleeping Bear Dunes, reached her Michigan grounds the next day. A cleanup at the beach, a site researchers say has promise for another plover pair, is planned for Saturday.
Even if the plovers passing through don’t nest in Chicago, their visits are a sign of a welcoming habitat, said Francie Cuthbert, a professor in the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology at the University of Minnesota, who has devoted decades to the plover recovery effort.
“There are other birds besides Monty and Rose stopping in Chicago,” Cuthbert said. “It’s a positive thing. Even though that bird didn’t stay, it saw good habitat.”
Plovers live five to six years on average, Cuthbert said, and some go on to live longer.
“But all kinds of things can happen during migration, or any time of year,” Cuthbert said. “So we’re keeping our fingers crossed.”
If Rose finds her way to Montrose Beach again, it may only be a matter of time before fuzz-ball chicks on toothpick legs are flitting across the sand, adding to the list of plovers to look out for and the family tree of Chicago’s favorite birds.
Source : https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/environment/ct-piping-plovers-monty-rose-montrose-beach-20220421-3obqo556tbe2xfxkwsj4vrn3zq-story.html#ed=rss_www.chicagotribune.com/arcio/rss/category/news/