Nish makes history of his own as Monty and Rose face a setback

The good, the bad and the reality of shorebird life.

One of the themes that’s emerged in two years of covering Great Lakes Piping Plovers is the tenuousness of life on the beach. That delicate balance was on full display last week. 

In a 48-hour period last week, we learned of Nish nesting in Ohio and of Monty and Rose losing their eggs. It’s the capriciousness and the harsh reality of nature. And that’s magnified when there are only 65 or so pairs of Great Lakes plovers remaining anywhere in the world.

Let’s start with the good. One of the story lines going into this plover nesting season—maybe THE story line—was where the 2020 chicks that hatched at Chicago’s Montrose Beach might show up to breed. The 2020 brood, Esperanza, Hazel and Nish, were the first Chicago chicks to be banded, meaning we’d know where Chicago-hatched birds might like to spend the summer. This just wasn’t information anyone had before; there hadn’t been a successful nest in Chicago since 1948 and plover banding is a more recent development.

In late May, there were reports of 2020 chick Nish being seen at a beach near Toledo, Ohio, with two other Piping Plovers. Surely, though, Nish would be moving north. Ohio hadn’t had a Piping Plover nest in more than 80 years. 

Then the delightful news arrived last Tuesday that Nish and one of the plovers had a nest scrape with an egg in it. Nish, who it turns out is male, joined Pennsylvania-hatched Nellie to make history, and a cadre of volunteers and staff from Black Swamp Bird Observatory leapt into action along with wildlife managers.   

Just as everyone in the world of Monty and Rose was glowing at the news, we had a rough day back here in Chicago. Rose had laid her fourth egg in mid-May in the center of the habitat addition at the Montrose Beach Dunes Natural Area. Incubation was under way, and, other than a bizarre overnight encounter with a mylar balloon, chicks were expected very soon—as soon as this week. Again, there are vagaries of shorebird nesting life, and really most any bird’s nesting life.

One of the scenes you might remember from “Monty and Rose” were all the mammalian predators passing by the wire nest exclosure at night. Volunteer monitors arrived early Thursday and discovered the plovers off the nest and the eggs missing. It was later discovered that a skunk was the culprit and had accessed the nest and eaten the eggs overnight. 

Here’s the silver lining, though: Monty and Rose have experienced this before (remember the 2019 nest washout?) and succeeded. Later Thursday, they resumed courtship behavior and began scraping new nests. 

The fleeting character of beach life means that thrilling things can happen, too. Just like Nish becoming a pioneer in northwest Ohio. And that’s what’s heartening with a long summer ahead. 

Children’s book makes its debut

Monty beat his wings faster. Any minute now he’d be with Rose. Last summer they had promised to meet at Montrose Beach to nest there.

A song filled his heart when he spotted the beach. ‘Pip-pip-pip-pip,’ he called to let Rose know he was back. But who was that other Piping Plover? A male! He was dancing for Rose!

The above excerpt is from the beginning of “Monty and Rose Nest at Montrose,” a children’s book written by retired healthcare industry professional and “Plovermother” Tamima Itani. The book goes on to chronicle the 2019 nesting season, Monty and Rose’s first in Chicago, and the hatching and rearing of two chicks. 

Most of you may know Tamima as the volunteer coordinator for Piping Plover monitoring efforts and as a board member of the Illinois Ornithological Society. I enjoyed reading every word of this book, especially the nifty depictions of actual events like the one above (there was a rival plover at Montrose in early 2019).

Anna-Maria Crum provided the lovely illustrations for the book, which is available via the Plovermother website. One hundred percent of the net proceeds from sales will be donated to support research and conservation efforts of Piping Plovers and shorebirds. 

Order now

Major Illinois clean energy bill sees another delay

Back in August of 2019, I wrote about a trip to southeast Ohio and watching coal barges on the Ohio River. I thought about the amount of energy being used to extract the coal, fuel the barges and power a nearby plant. Then I thought about how mining and burning the coal would affect the trees and the hills all around us, and, of course, the climate.

Ever since, I’ve been following the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA) as it makes its way through the Illinois legislature. The bill would expand green energy infrastructure while investing in economic development and clean transportation. 

The Illinois General Assembly just concluded its spring session without bringing the bill to a vote. Democrats enjoy a super-majority in both the House and Senate and can pass bills without Republican support. It seems Senate Democrats balked at some versions of CEJA that would phase out coal in Illinois by 2035. Governor J.B. Pritzker remains supportive and is confident the bill will get passed. 

On the other side of the issue is the Illinois Manufacturers Association, which is raising questions about the costs of the bill, the reliability of the grid and the impact on jobs. The bill makes provisions for the jobs, though, and that’s where the investment comes in to ensure that coal communities can transition to renewables. 

This is one to watch if and when legislators return to Springfield this month. 

TWiB Notes

The Chicago Sun-Times had a really wonderful piece yesterday about birding at Montrose, including several familiar names and faces…..Check out Chicago Ornithological Society’s Iroquois SWA Whip-poor-walk which takes place Saturday, June 19. The field trip will visit the sandy oak savannas of Iroquois County, one of the last remaining strongholds of Eastern Whip-poor-wills in the Chicago region…..This is a great time of year to visit Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie near Joliet. Breeding birds include Blue Grosbeak, Bell’s Vireo, Yellow-breasted Chat, Henslow’s Sparrow and many more……WTTW had a lengthier piece on the “Picturing the Prairie” art exhibit taking place now through September at Chicago Botanic Garden.

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