A small bird on a sandy beach.

A piping plover nesting at Montrose beach, one of 70 or so breeding pairs in the Midwest.

Fran Morel

Two little birds are causing a big controversy

Despite pleas to protect the nests of piping plovers, JAM Productions still plans to hold two nights of shows in August in the midst of the Montrose bird sanctuary.

Even birds get tired.

After a long dark flight over Lake Michigan — most songbirds migrate at night — they’re ready to flop down on the first solid ground they see.

“The sun comes up, and they will immediately look for the closest place to land where they can find shelter, and in the Chicago area that place is Montrose,” said Greg Neise of the American Birding Association.

Opinion bug


Montrose juts out, a half-mile long welcome mat offering a smorgasbord of habitats for 300 types of birds: trees for warblers and thrushes, grassland for bobolink and meadowlarks, and of course beach, where endangered piping plovers scoop out tiny nests in the sand and lay their brown-speckled eggs.

I admit, when the piping plover saga erupted, I did not rush to the ramparts. For those late to the party, JAM is moving its “Mamby on the Beach” music festival to Montrose, raising concerns about trampled plover nests.

I like birds, but I’m not fanatical about it. There are a number of plovers, and if the piping plover goes down, well, the Wilson’s plover will do.

This callousness vaporized after my friend Tony Fitzpatrick got me on the phone. You know Tony — artist, actor, writer, general Chicago renaissance man.

And bird lover.

“This is sacred space,” he said. “I can’t understand why the city isn’t enforcing the protection of a bird sanctuary.”

Fitzpatrick’s ire centered on JAM chief Jerry Mickelson, whose vows to re-locate the August festival are met with skepticism.

“He’s contributing to the destruction of a species,” Fitzpatrick said. “This is a small thing, and he’s not going to lose a dime if he moves it. I’m asking Jerry as a good corporate citizen to do the right thing.”

What amazes me is, Mickelson is a collector of Fitzpatrick’s work. It’s one thing to take a stand. Another to slap the hand that feeds you.

“Yeah, Jerry’s bought my work,” said Fitzpatrick. “I take no joy in this. But I’m on a mission here.”

Time to sound out the man who co-founded JAM Productions in 1972.

“We want to make sure the birds are safe,” Mickelson said. noting that he’s met with concerned environmentalists.

“I went into the den of the lion, trying to resolve their issues,” he said. “Most of them weren’t even relevant. I answered and responded to every one.”

Mickelson said the right words, but his patience only goes so far.

“The plovers I totally get,” he said. “There is always some butterfly, some worm that is going to go extinct. Where does it stop?”

Where it stops is the city. The Chicago Park District is trying to arbitrate and is “optimistic” about finding a solution.

“We are currently working with Mamby Festival organizers to bring the concert site inland to a location that is not invasive to the piping plover’s nesting,” it said in a statement. “The District remains committed to managing parkland fairly for all users.”

That sounds good; we’ll see how it works out in reality.


On Friday, due to a production error, my column created the impression among some readers that I do not fully recognize the superlative greatness of the Rolling Stones.

This was a mistake or, in my wife’s words, “way wrong.”

Being way wrong was not my intention. The production error consisted of ill-considered movement of my fingers upon a keyboard leading to casually-chosen words that I did not realize would alienate my wife, friends, readers — nearly everybody I know.

I was also wrong to suggest the Stones are a blues band.

”The Stones are a rock band with blues roots,” she said.

I was also wrong to suggest their music is “unimportant.”

”They were important then, and they’re important now,” she said, adding that while the term “unimportant” might apply to washed-up nostalgia acts such as Bruce Springsteen or Madonna, the Stones occupy a timeless empyrean of significance all to themselves, and it is simply sad that an otherwise perceptive man who is no spring chicken himself could be blind to it.

After a dressing down I usually ask “Do you want me to run a correction?” She declines, and that’s the end of it. This time she said, “Yes, that would be a good idea.”

The Sun-Times regrets the error. I know I do.

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