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Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park

Documentary To Tell The Story Of Chicago’s Piping Plovers And The Birders Who Fought To Protect Them

Uptown resident and lifelong birder Bob Dolgan said the film will hopefully debut in the fall.

Videographer Mitch Wenkus films the Piping Plovers at Montrose Beach.
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UPTOWN — The summer of piping plovers will never be forgotten thanks to a documentary filmed by an Uptown resident.

Bob Dolgan, an avid birder for more than three decades, is making the doc about plovers Monty and Rose after raising more than $5,000 on Kickstarter. This is his first attempt at an independent film. 

Bob Dolgan decided to make a documentary about the Piping Plovers when they nested at Montrose Beach

For Dolgan, the story of the Great Lakes piping plovers — a federally protected species with only 71 known mating pairs — started in January, well before Monty and Rose chose Montrose Beach to fledge their young. 

In January, there was a piping plover spotted in Chicago, well after it should have flown south for the sinter. Dolgan was fascinated with the little bird.

Later that spring, Dolgan was working on a job that took him to Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan. There, he had a chance to visit nesting piping plovers.

“You kind of develop a connection with some birds,” he said. 

Driving home from the dunes, Dolgan thought about the fragility of the species and how they were clinging to life, beating the odds. He wanted to shoot a documentary that focused on plovers within Chicago’s ecosystem, but he wasn’t quite sure what that would look like. 

Then Monty and Rose came to Montrose Beach and changed everything. 

Dolgan sprang into action when he heard from local birding groups that plovers had landed at Montrose Beach. Adding in a touch of drama, the Mamby On the Beach music festival had been scheduled for the same spot.

“The story unfolded in a way that was more compelling than one could predict,” he said. 

Dolgan solicited the help of videographer Mitch Wenkus and they got to work just days after the plovers were sighted. 

“I didn’t know where things were heading, but I had a feeling that this needed to be chronicled as soon as possible,” he said. 

For the rest of the summer, Dolgan and Wenkus spent time at Montrose Beach, capturing every moment they could.

Even when he wasn’t filming, Dolgan was a plover watcher himself, volunteering twice a week to help keep the birds safe — along with 185 other Chicago nature enthusiasts.

Mitch Wenkus (left) with Jill Niland of the Chicago Ornithological Society.

Dolgan said his partner Wenkus, who has a background shooting video for Greenpeace, got excellent footage and they can’t wait to share it with the world. 

“The quality of his footage is outstanding,” he said. 

But at some point during the filming, Dolgan knew he needed to get financial backing to keep the dream going. He budgeted $5,000 and launched the Kickstarter, not sure it would be funded.

“Knowing the passion of Chicago’s birders, I thought I had a pretty good shot at raising the money,” he said. 

And Chicagons, as they so often do, came through, raising just over $5,000.

Dolgan doesn’t have an exact release date yet, but he is hoping to showcase the film in the fall. 

The documentary is not just about the plovers, he said — it’s also about the people who showed up every day to make sure the endangered birds were safe, even pushing for the Mamby Festival to be canceled to protect them.

Dolgan said he was particularly impressed with volunteers who had no previous birding experience. For many, the plovers awakened them to the wonders of urban wildlife. 

Frustrated by the “often cartoonish” portrayal of birders, Dolgan said he hopes his documentary will portray birders in the right light. 

“Birders are some of the best, most humble people in the world,” he said. “I hope my film captures their spirit.”

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