"We are a city in a garden."

A celebration of 3.1 acres of rare ecosystem, high-quality flora and fauna in the middle of a metropolis.

Front row, from left, Mike Raczyla (Chicago Park District), Edward Warden (Chicago Ornithological Society), Matthew Freer (Chicago Park District). Back row, from left, Sally Duros, Patrick Levar (Chicago Park District), Judy Pollock (Chicago Audubon Society), Naureen Rana (Chicago Park District), Cassi Saari (Chicago Park District), Michael Kelly (Chicago Park District), Louise Clemency (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), Leslie Borns (Montrose Beach Dunes Site Steward) and Brad Semel (Illinois Department of Natural Resources).

Bank Swallows chattered overhead Thursday during remarks about the new habitat addition at Montrose Beach Dunes Natural Area. The burbling calls were an appropriate backdrop as the newly protected area includes a Bank Swallow colony of almost 100 nests, what might be the only Bank Swallow colony in the City of Chicago.

The Chicago Park District announced in April that the formerly 9-acre habitat, located on the eastern end of Montrose Beach in Lincoln Park, would gain 3.1 acres due to the expansion, increasing its size to over 12 acres. The added footprint supports a rare dune/swale ecosystem containing high-quality flora and fauna and draws widespread interest from birders and other nature enthusiasts who visit the area daily.

Thursday’s event was a formal recognition of the new natural area, which was inspired by “Monty” and “Rose,” the Great Lakes Piping Plovers who have thrilled thousands of Chicagoans by becoming the first Piping Plovers to nest in the city since 1948. Volunteers, state and federal agencies and birding organizations joined Chicago Park District Superintendent Michael Kelly at the event, along with Site Steward Leslie Borns.

“It is an amazing phenomenon what Monty and Rose have done,” Kelly said. “We are a city in a garden. This is a big part of what we are, these natural areas and these volunteers.”

Kelly later walked into the new habitat and peeked at Monty through a spotting scope on the beach. But it was the power of partnership and the tenacity of nature that were the stars of the show. The site hosts 28 state-listed plant species and 13 nesting bird species in addition to a globally rare panne habitat. Many longtime advocates and supporters have seen this area evolve from a patch of sand and rubble. Almost 1,000 volunteers under Borns’ leadership have worked hands-on to maintain and protect the site over 20 years.

“Part of this natural areas program was inviting citizens in the management of these areas and also develop community-based stewardship,” Borns said. “I had no idea what was involved in being a steward, but I accepted the Park District’s invitation.”

Speakers at the event highlighted the Chicago Park District and its essential role in making Monty and Rose’s success possible.

“These plovers showing up just demonstrates the power of partnership,” said Judy Pollock, President of Chicago Audubon Society, “government and local community members trying to create something for conservation.”

“I want to talk about the significance of this habitat here in Chicago, on this beach, here in the city,” said Louise Clemency, Field Supervisor, for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The Chicago public has a chance to view the nesting of an endangered piping plover, its whole cycle, its successes and sometimes failures, and contribute to the trajectory of the whole population.”

In 2005, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources added Montrose Beach Dunes to the statewide list of high-quality natural areas known as the Illinois Natural Areas Inventory (INAI), because it contains important features of our natural heritage.  Montrose Beach Dunes is the only INAI site along the north lakefront.

Remarkably, when Monty and Rose arrived this past spring, they scraped their first nest right in the middle of the new habitat addition.

“It’s been an adventure that is more exciting, rewarding and growthful than anything that we could have ever imagined,” Borns said.

If you go: The new dune area and surroundings are still fenced off due to plover nesting season, but it is possible to visit and have a great experience. I suggest parking on Montrose Harbor Drive near the beach house and walking north past the kayak rental. An area to the west, along the public beach provides a good vantage point. Walk onto the fishing pier to the east if you want an unobstructed view into the rest of the dunes. The area is expected to re-open to the public soon.

Tickets for “Monty and Rose 2: The World of Monty and Rose”

Join us for the premiere of my second documentary about Monty and Rose! This is a new film, a new story line with new characters and a lot of new footage of our favorite plovers! Those featured in the hour-long film include “Plover Mother” Tamima Itani of Illinois Ornithological Society, American Birding Association's Greg Neise, actor/artist Tony Fitzpatrick, Chicago Tribune reporter Morgan Greene, Chicago Ornithological Society President Edward Warden, Montrose Dunes Site Steward Leslie Borns, longtime Chicago birder and guide Geoff Williamson and many more. Buy tickets for the Sept. 4 and Sept. 6 showings by clicking here.

Buy tickets

Douglass 18 bird-themed mini-golf course opens on West Side

The Douglass 18 is a mini-golf course that celebrates the birds of Douglass Park on the city’s West Side. On Saturday, local youth and an array of community partners celebrated the grand opening of the course, which culminates three years of planning and preparation. The course replaces an existing mini-golf course that was due for an overhaul. The course will be open from May 1 to Oct. 30: 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays; closed Sundays. Greens fees are a reasonable $5 per person.

TWiB Notes

Fort Sheridan Hawkwatch gets started in just a few weeks and is in need of experienced birders (especially those with hawkwatching experience) to help this fall. If you are interested in helping out, please fill out this form…..Bald Eagles have rebounded dramatically in the past two decades, to the point where they now nest in all 102 counties in Illinois. “The 21st” radio show, which airs downstate, interviewed two experts on their status…..I’m usually delighted by the huge flocks of Double-crested Cormorants on the lakefront in spring and summer. However, Bridge Michigan wrote about the growing chorus for cormorant kills, as they are viewed as a nuisance species in the upper part of the state.   

This TWiB post was emailed to the free list as well as paid subscribers. You can ensure you never miss a post by becoming a paid subscriber! Just click the button below to get started. I’m planning a personal fall bird walk for anyone who subscribes this month.