Birding with…Marianne Lalonde, candidate for 46th ward alderperson
“Is that an owl?”
Those were Marianne Lalonde’s first words as we entered Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary last Tuesday morning.
I looked up to see a big immature Red-tailed Hawk. It wasn’t an owl, but puffed up against the cold it had taken on a rounder, owl-like form. It sure looked like an owl. A brazen Gray Squirrel seemed to be antagonizing the raptor. We watched for a while before moving farther into the sanctuary. There were more birds to be seen on this raw December day.
Marianne Lalonde is a scientist, energy efficiency professional, and longtime community activist who’s running for 46th ward alderman. Until two years ago, we were neighbors.
In 2019, Lalonde lost to Ald. James Cappleman by just 25 votes. Cappleman is retiring, and six candidates are vying to replace him in the Feb. 28 election.
The 46th ward might be the most important ward in the city to birds and birders. More than 350 species of birds have been identified at the ward’s Montrose Point, the most of any site in Illinois. Hundreds, if not thousands, of birders and other nature enthusiasts visit annually, traveling from all over the country. Of course, Montrose Point also was home to beloved Piping Plovers Monty and Rose for three years until earlier this year.
As we made our way around the sanctuary, we first stopped at the famed Magic Hedge, the tangle of old shrubs that attracts a phenomenal variety of wood warblers every spring. There were just a few species present, cardinals, juncos, and chickadees. Then it was over to the recently burned meadow, where six American Goldfinches were feasting on seed heads.
We ambled toward the lake and arrived at the 3.1-acre parcel of Montrose Beach Dunes, “the habitat addition,” where Monty and Rose nested in 2019 and a portion of 2021. Lalonde was among area residents who opposed a large electronic music festival, Mamby on the Beach, when it was slated for the site just as Monty and Rose attempted to nest in 2019.
Even as that festival was staved off, there is a persistent fear in the neighborhood that Montrose will be a destination for other large-scale events in the future. The answer, according to Lalonde, might be re-visiting the Lakefront Protection Ordinance. Think Daniel Burnham and Montgomery Ward and “a lakefront for all” envisioned 100-plus years ago.
“The law hasn’t been updated since then,” Lalonde said.
What is the definition of “for all?” Well, that might mean smaller businesses like the Park Bait Shop can continue to operate, along with the one-day running races and charity walks. But larger events that cause traffic and keep neighbors from utilizing the park would be out.
“There are really just 18 weekends per year when people can enjoy the weather and be in the park,” Lalonde said. “Even one or two weekends taken away makes a big impact.”
Having a scientist in City Council is an exciting prospect, especially one so attuned to environmental issues and the lakefront. I’m a fan of anyone who would mention the Montrose Dunes Panne Habitat on their campaign website.
We totaled just 18 species at the sanctuary, but it was the discussion of additional protection for the site that was a bright spot on a gray wintry day.
If you’d like to learn more about Lalonde’s campaign, or get involved, visit her website.
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