UPTOWN — Piping plover couple Monty and Rose have delighted Chicagoans for two summers as the endangered birds chose Montrose Beach as their annual mating grounds.
But before Monty and Rose visited Chicago, another piping plover found a home at Montrose Beach. Dodger, as the bird came to be known, even stayed on the beach through the winter — a highly unusual move for the migratory bird species.
Now a “micro-short” documentary by Chicago filmmaker and birder Bob Dolgan tells the story of Dodger, the first piping plover in decades to capture the hearts of local birders. “Dodger” was released Jan. 15. It can be viewed below.
Monty and Rose, two mated Great Lakes piping plovers, captivated Chicago wildlife enthusiasts when they decided to nest at Montrose Beach in May 2019. It was the first time since 1955 the endangered bird species successfully nested in the city.
The birds’ presence sparked a conservation effort that culminated in a music festival being canceled. Monty and Rose returned to Montrose Beach last summer, and they are likely to make the lakefront park their annual summer stop.
But Dodger was the first celebrity piping plover in the city, spotted at Montrose Beach in October 2018, Dolgan said.
Plovers are usually south of Chicago by that time of the year, so the bird’s presence was peculiar. Dodger’s behavior only further puzzled local birders, as the plover stayed in Chicago through January 2019, Dolgan said.
“The bird had quite a following of its own,” Dolgan said. “As the days and weeks went on, it got more strange.”
The bird’s presence concerned birders, who weren’t sure Dodger would survive the winter. State wildlife professionals assisted local birders in trying to catch Dodger with the hopes of bringing him to a zoo temporarily — but the bird was evasive, hence his name.
Birders kept an eye on Dodger, who amazingly survived on the icy Montrose Beach through December and January. Those watching Dodger never noticed any injury or other issues with the bird, and they could not figure out why he stayed local for the winter.
“The only living creature out there seemingly was this bird,” Dolgan said. “One still wonders how Dodger was subsisting out there.”
Then, toward the end of January, Dodger vanished without a trace, Dolgan said.
There was no evidence Dodger perished on the beach or was eaten, Dolgan said. But birders could not confirm if Dodger had migrated south.
Unlike Monty and Rose, Dodger was not tagged with a band identifying the bird. Birders have used the bands on Monty and Rose to confirm their southern migration destination the past two winters.
Monty and Rose are Great Lakes piping plovers, whereas Dodger was likely a Great Plains piping plover, which are less monitored than their Midwest brethren, birders said.
“What happened to Dodger is still a mystery,” Dolgan said.
Despite the unknown conclusion, the saga of Dodger helped organize and prepare the birders for the challenge of caring and advocating for Monty and Rose, Dolgan said.
The story is another example of the unique and interesting wildlife that call Chicago home — as long as native habitats are protected, he said.
“It’s about showing and capturing how one bird or one species can be a lens into the natural world,” Dolgan said. “So people can understand more about a species, and Chicago being home to incredible wildlife.”
Check out the micro-documentary below, which was directed and produced by Dolgan and was filmed and edited by Mitchell Wenkus.
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