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Chicagoland birds need our help

Recent events have confirmed for me why we need a newsletter like this one that educates the public about birds and advocates for their protection. First came the news last week that an airport in Rockford planned to expand into Bell Bowl Prairie, a state natural area and rare gravel hill prairie that is home to birds like the Black-billed Cuckoo and insects like the federally endangered Rusty-patched Bumble Bee. The expansion would place a road in the middle of the 25-acre parcel, which has just barely staved off development to even be with us today.

"We evaluated other areas, and unfortunately it (did) not fit," said Zack Oakley, the airport’s deputy director of operations and planning. “These things are always tough.”

Bulldozers are now poised over the prairie, which is a remnant of the ancient landscape that dates to the last glaciation in Illinois, when melting ice left deposits of gravel on a few west-facing slopes. The bumble bees may face a reprieve until this winter, when construction likely will resume.

Then there’s what happened this week in northwest Indiana.

U.S. Steel discharged a massive amount of a rusty substance into Lake Michigan at Portage, Ind. The spill closed beaches at Indiana Dunes National Park as well as a water treatment plant at Ogden Dunes. This comes after an April 2017 spill that only recently came to a resolution in federal court. One wonders how much northwest Indiana can take. Shorebirds seen in the area recently include Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Baird's Sandpiper, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover and Semipalmated Sandpiper. Foraging in rusty, iron-tainted wastewater cannot be healthy for these birds as they make their way south to places like the Caribbean and Central and South America.

As if to top things off, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced yesterday that 23 plant and animal species, including the legendary Ivory-billed Woodpecker, were now officially extinct.

Will you take the next step for birds? Help this newsletter take flight as its one-year anniversary approaches. Become a paid subscriber and you’ll have full access to the TWiB archive and join a community where telling stories about birds and informing the public about birds is possible. This is the only weekly newsletter around that blends bird identification, sightings, field trips and storytelling through the lens of Chicago and the Great Lakes.

Here’s a highlight reel from the first year of This Week in Birding to give you a sense of what you’ll see in this space:

I understand if this causes financial hardship and a paid subscription isn’t possible. But if you do have the resources, I hope you will consider becoming a paid subscriber. You can take the next step and become part of an effort that combines advocacy, education and films with an appreciation for the bird life all around us.

TWiB was the first to break the news about the potential habitat addition at Montrose Beach Dunes and the first to interview Ald. James Cappleman and learn of his commitment to the Piping Plovers and the additional acreage. TWiB also brought partners together for a press conference at the site, featuring remarks from the Chicago Park District praising Monty and Rose and their protectors.

One year into this project, I can see where much more potential remains. I hope you’ll join us. Birds will benefit as a result.

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