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A new egg! Endangered birds build new nest at Montrose Beach, evicting volleyball courts and again jeopardizing music fest

The future of MAMBY on the Beach is still up in the air after piping plovers re-establish home on lakefront after first nest flooded.

An area has been sectioned off at Montrose Beach for nesting piping plovers, an endangered shorebird.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Egg alert.

Two endangered piping plovers at Montrose Beach, whose plight has attracted national attention, have carved a new nest in the sand after water flooded their previous one.

And a new egg was found in the nest Wednesday morning.

Conservationists determined to protect the birds’ habitat have butted heads in recent weeks with the promoters of MAMBY on the Beach — a concert festival that is scheduled for August 23 and 24 that could encroach on the nesting grounds of the two birds and their potential chicks.

Last week, after their nest was flooded and their four eggs removed to Lincoln Park Zoo for safe keeping, it was unclear if the birds would stay at the beach and remain a hurdle for the festival promoters.

But the birds, nicknamed Monty and Rose, stuck around and established a new nest on higher ground near the southern end of the beach.

Jam Productions’ Jerry Mickelson, left, in 2018. A piping plover walks in the area sectioned off for the endangered species on Montrose Beach last week. Colin Boyle/Sun-Times; Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Judging from the average time a piping plover egg needs to hatch, combined with the average time a chick needs to learn to fly, it’s possible the birds could be in the air and taking care of themselves just days ahead of the Aug. 23 and 24 concert, according to Louise Clemency, field supervisor for the Chicago office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Jerry Mickelson, who heads up concert organizer JAM Productions, told the Sun-Times Wednesday that he still hopes to hold the concert on Montrose Beach. But he said if baby birds are in the area as the concert approaches, the fest will relocate.

“If chicks are being raised on the beach we will voluntarily move,” he said Wednesday.

Exactly when that decision will be made is unclear, but Mickelson said work crews need to be on the beach four days before the start of the festival to begin setting up for the event.

If the birds and the workers look like they will overlap “we’d have to make the decision to error on the side of caution and move it,” Mickelson said. Three contingency sites to move the concert have been identified, he said, but he declined to share the locations.

If the birds and their young remain at the beach, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife could mandate a 1,000-meter buffer zone that would protect the birds from concert noise.

Bird conservationists say the zone would exclude the entire beach and nearby park, or what’s known as the Montrose Recreational Area.

”We understand it’s 1,000 meters and that’s what we will gladly and willfully do,” said Mickelson.

Still, since the future of the plovers is still unclear (”Will the eggs hatch? Will they need to be moved again?”), as of now, he’s still planning to have the concert on Montrose Beach.

A meeting to discuss plans for the concert is scheduled for July 8 and will include Mickelson and and various community groups.

Volleyball nets removed

The new egg could be followed over the next six days by two or three more, birders said.

A crew from the Chicago Park District fenced off an area near the nest Wednesday morning.

And park district workers removed nine volleyball courts that were too close to the protected area around the nest, according to park district spokeswoman Michele Lemons.

”There are seven leagues that play at Montrose. Some leagues have combined teams to decrease the number of courts used while others have been relocated to Foster Beach. We haven’t received any complaints from leagues and everyone is working together to support the endangered Piping Plover mating activity,” Lemons said in an email.

Volunteers from Chicago’s birding community who stood guard in two-hour shifts over the old nest — mostly to keep curious dogs away — have continued their guard duties at the new nest.

Meanwhile, a keeper at the Lincoln Park Zoo is expected at some point over the next few days to drive the four plover eggs that were removed from the original nest six hours north to the University of Michigan Biological Station in Pellston, where they’ll be cared for until they can be released.

The arrival of the plovers was a huge deal in the birding community and the laying of eggs was cause for downright giddiness.

The population of the small shorebird on the Great Lakes was first listed as endangered in 1986 when 17 breeding pairs were recorded in the region. Numbers have increased since then to about 70 breeding pairs, according to Vince Cavalieri, Great Lakes piping plover coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.