Following Bob Dolgan’s path to documentary ‘The Magic Stump’

The path of Bob Dolgan doing documentaries on birds and birding, beginning with two on Monty and Rose and now “The Magic Stump.”

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The Osage orange stump that is the focus of “The Magic Stump” documentary. Provided photo

The Osage orange stump that is the focus of “The Magic Stump” documentary.

Provided

When he was 8, Bob Dolgan did a book report on John James Audubon’s “Birds of America” “and was really struck.”

Enough that he took out a field guide, but, he said, “I left it on the patio and it got soaked in the rain. Mom paid for the book, so I kept it.”

Growing up east of Cleveland, Dolgan went with his mom, Cecilia Dolgan, on bird walks at Sunset Pond at Cleveland Metroparks and the sprawling Holden Arboretum.

“I still call on those today,” he said. “That was the beginning, a lot has happened since.”

Dolgan became a documentarian of birding around Chicago, beginning with two on Monty and Rose, the piping plovers at Montrose Beach.

His latest, “The Magic Stump,” premiered Sept. 24 in Charleston. The Chicago premiere was Sunday at Uncommon Ground Edgewater.

The Osage orange stump in Coles County stars. Humans are eastern Illinois birders Tyler Funk, Ron Bradley and David Mott. Birds are lapland longspurs, snow buntings, horned larks, prairie falcons, merlins, red-tailed hawk, northern harriers, short-eared owl, rough-legged hawk, snowy owl, American kestrel and gyrfalcon.

One of the prairie falcons starring in the documentary “The Magic Stump.” Credit: Ron Bradley

One of the prairie falcons starring in the documentary “The Magic Stump.”

Ron Bradley

It’s not a dry treatise, though there’s a scientific guess why the stump draws such variety. Humor seasons “The Magic Stump.” “Poop” as a verb dropped as I cut my pan-seared chicken thighs Sunday. There’s visual humor in the scene of birds preening while Hum’s “Step Into You” plays. Most of the sound track is from Chicago birder Jake Vinsel under his band, Empidonax (a birding reference).

See “The Magic Stump” and the Monty and Rose documentaries, if you haven’t already.

I was curious how Dolgan came to his role.

After his early start in birding, he went to Kenyon College, then worked as a journalist in Richmond. Then he came to Chicago and did public relations for Anixter Center, followed by 11 years at the Greater Chicago Food Depository, reaching vice president of communications.

In the evenings he earned his masters in marketing from the Kellogg School at Northwestern. He joined Advance Illinois from 2016-18 and was in the bruising battle for equitable school funding statewide, which ultimately succeeded.

“I was pretty burnt out and parted ways in October, 2018,” he said.

With two daughters, the youngest entering kindergarten, he wanted another way.

“I wanted to experience life again and be present,” he said. “I completely reset and started birding. I would literally walk in the wilderness and didn’t apply for any jobs, just made sure I took my daughters to school and picked them up.”

He built his year list. “I was never a chaser of birds, but I did some that year,” he said.

That winter, Dodger, a piping plover, set an Illinois record, staying until Jan. 10, 2019.

“Very weird to see a plover with snow falling, a bizarre experience,” he said.

In the spring when Monty and Rose arrived, Dolgan became a volunteer to protect the nest area under lead plover monitor Tamima Itani.

“I was lucky to have a front row at the time to document it,” he said.

I asked how he had the audacity to do a documentary on a topic massively covered visually and in print.

“Documentaries have shelf life and don’t just disappear into the social media ether,” he said.

By comparison, “The Magic Stump” is an obscure story, known mainly by dedicated birders. It’s a vastly different landscape and story, showing his growth as an auteur.

“The visual language of the film is really consistent [with the] benefit of the wide open scenery,” he said.

Information is at themagicstump.com.

Next he plans a Prairie State Series on such topics as fluddles, the Calumet region and Chicago neighborhoods.

Bob Dolgan answering questions after the showing Sunday of the Chicago premier of “The Magic Stump” at Uncommon Ground Edgewater. Credit: Dale Bowman

Bob Dolgan answering questions after the showing Sunday of the Chicago premier of “The Magic Stump” at Uncommon Ground Edgewater.

Dale Bowman

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