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Endangered piping plovers return to deserted Montrose Beach

Last year, the piping plovers’ nest forced the cancellation of the Mamby on the Beach music festival. This year, the beach is already completely empty for the birds.

Piping plovers Monty and Rose were spotted on Montrose Beach on Friday.
Piping plovers Monty and Rose were spotted on Montrose Beach on Friday.
Provided by Chicago Park District

A pair of endangered piping plovers whose Montrose Beach nest sparked fierce debate last year between conservationists and music fans, leading to the cancelation of a popular lakefront festival, have returned to nest once again.

This time, though, the rare birds have found the beach completely empty, thanks to Chicago’s lakefront closure during to the coronavirus pandemic.

The plover couple — nicknamed Monty and Rose — were spotted Friday by Chicago Park District staff, according to Louise Clemency, field supervisor for the Chicago office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“They found the conditions very different from last year, with lots of dogs and people and disturbance,” said Brad Semel, a biologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Reserves. “They essentially have the place to themselves, without any human disturbance, this time. There’s still lots of gulls and coyotes and skunks.”

And it seems their romance has picked up where it left off, with Monty exhibiting “courtship behavior” by scraping out potential nesting spots in the sand.

Once a nesting spot is chosen and eggs are laid, a state biologist will set up an enclosure to protect the nest from predators while allowing Monty and Rose free access all summer, Clemency said.

Piping plovers are an endangered species, although their native Great Lakes population has grown from a low of about 20 pairs to around 70 thanks to conservation efforts. Monty and Rose’s appearance at Montrose Beach last May marked the species’ first appearance in Chicago in decades.

That led to months of argument between bird-lovers and beach-goers while part of the popular North Side beach was roped off to protect their nest.

An online petition to cancel the beach’s annual two-day Mamby on the Beach festival, which would have impeded on the nest’s territory, garnered nearly 7,000 signatures and eventually succeeded.

The two surviving chicks (out of four eggs in the nest) ultimately took flight on Aug. 12, two weeks before the festival was supposed to occur.

Monty and Rose, meanwhile, spent the winter apart. Rose, the female, lived off the coast of Florida, while Monty was seen off the coast of Texas, Semel said.