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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

Piping Plover Spotted Tuesday At 57th Street Beach, Marking A 2nd Year Of South Side Plover Sightings

Hyde Parker Ryan Fuller photographed a piping plover Tuesday at 57th Street Beach. Chicago's "Plovermother" says it's unlikely to nest in Hyde Park — but "plovers could prove us wrong at any time."

A piping plover rests on 57th Street Beach Tuesday morning.
Ryan Fuller
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HYDE PARK — A Chicago birdwatcher spotted a piping plover on Hyde Park’s lakefront this week, exciting birders across the city.

On Tuesday morning, Hyde Park resident Ryan Fuller photographed the plover at 57th Street Beach, 5700 S. DuSable Lake Shore Drive. It was “raining sideways,” and early-morning dogwalkers and city crews will typically scare off rare birds before Fuller makes it down to the beach, so he didn’t expect to make such a special sighting, he said.

Despite his doubts, Fuller “decided to take a chance” and visit 57th Street Beach, he said. “… The first bird that I put my binoculars on happened to be a piping plover. I knew right away I had a pretty awesome shorebird running around.”

The Chicago Piping Plovers group was quick to share news of the South Side spotting. The group of environmentalists organized to care for Monty and Rose, the plovers who captured the city’s heart when they nested at Montrose Beach in 2019.

The plover Fuller saw was unbanded, meaning it hasn’t previously been tracked by government agencies or researchers, conservationist Tamima Itani said. Itani is the “Plovermother” who rallied neighbors to protect Monty and Rose’s nesting site, helping the pair become the first piping plovers to nest in Chicago since the mid-20th century.

Since Great Lakes piping plovers are endangered, most are banded and tracked, said Itani, who is also a member of the Illinois Ornithological Society.

The bird Fuller spotted “is most likely a Great Plains piping plover,” she said.

Only about 70 nesting pairs of piping plovers live around the Great Lakes region, according to the Great Lakes Piping Plover Conservation Team.

“We can’t rule out that it’s a Great Lakes [plover], but frankly we will never know,” Itani said. “The way it could be a Great Lakes piping plover is if a nest was missed last year and the chicks didn’t get banded.”

It’s “somewhat unlikely” plovers would choose to nest at 57th Street Beach, as it’s quite small and doesn’t feature an adjacent natural area, Fuller and Itani said.

Montrose Beach, 63rd Street Beach and Rainbow Beach — the latter of which is where birder Ian Sarmiento spotted a plover almost exactly a year ago — are Chicago’s most likely nesting spots for plovers, the birders said.

Piping plovers have been spotted on the Jackson Park lakefront at least three times, according to eBird archives: at 63rd Street Beach in 1959, at 57th and 63rd street beaches in 1980 and at 63rd Street Beach in 2015.

The sighting was likely just a stopover, as Tuesday’s weather patterns caused shorebirds to rest “on many beaches in Chicago,” Itani said, but she added that “piping plovers could prove us wrong at any time.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Two piping plovers poke around the protected area of Montrose Beach, returning for their third straight summer, as seen on April 27, 2021.

Whether the piping plover was simply waiting out the storm or scouting out a South Side nesting site, Fuller welcomed the chance to see and photograph the bird, he said. It was the first plover he’d ever found on a solo trip.

Fuller’s hot streak continued less than half an hour later when he saw an American avocet — a shorebird that rarely makes it to the Chicago area, he said.

“It was a fantastic morning for birding and for my personal birdwatching career,” Fuller said.

Chicago is a hub for migrating birds of all species, and in most years “we get a couple [plovers] at least — and sometimes several — that stop here on our various beaches to feed, hangout and rest before they continue their journey to somewhere farther north on the Great Lakes,” Chicago Ornithological Society president Edward Warden said last year.

The Rainbow Beach plover spotted last year, named Of,bY:X,G, appears to have only stopped over in South Shore on her way home to Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. She was seen the next day in her usual spot at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Plovers have nested on the South Side in the past, including at Wolf Lake and Lake Calumet, said Bob Dolgan, a birder who has filmed two documentaries about Monty and Rose. It’s “likely” they nested in what’s now the South Side before European settlers arrived, he said last year.

The South Side’s birding community “could mobilize pretty quickly” to host a nesting site if a breeding pair chose to call a nearby beach home, Fuller said.

He also hopes his sighting can encourage more birders to frequent sites like the South Shore Nature Sanctuary — which is “a magnet for rare birds” — as well as Jackson Park, Washington Park and others in the area, he said.

“Bringing a little more awareness to some of the underbirded [South Side] birding places is really good,” Fuller said. “… When migration is on, the South Side parks can really knock it out of the park.”

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