I’ve been looking forward to curling up with my laptop and watching Monty and Rose—a short film starring the first pair of piping plovers to nest in Chicago in 64 years—ever since I listened to BWD‘s recent BirdSense podcast interview with filmmaker Bob Dolgan. I finally sat down one snowy afternoon and was immediately whisked away to Chicago’s busy Montrose Beach in early June 2019.
For the next 20 minutes, I rode a roller coaster of emotion, immediately smitten with the fluffy pair of plovers and caught up in the excitement of the local Chicagoans who followed the birds’ nest progress. But joy quickly turns to distress as an impending storm threatens the four eggs the same day Rose begins incubating.
At the risk of giving away the rest of the film, I will just say that the ups and downs continue, as the pair and their nest and eventually their young are continually threatened from seemingly all directions. Human traffic, off-leash dogs, ATVs, rabbits, skunks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, gulls, crows, a black-crowned night heron… Oh, and then there’s a proposed music festival that is expected to bring 25,000+ people to the beach just feet away from the nest. The stream of intruders and potential predators is relentless, and you can’t help but wonder how any small shorebird survives in this world.
Fortunately, as members of local birding organizations and other concerned citizens learn of the music festival, word begins to get out about the plovers, and the media picks up the story as well. Birders and non-birders alike join forces in rooting for the plovers and volunteering to guard the nest. Over the course of the eggs’ 24-day incubation, hundreds of folks are educated and delighted by Monty and Rose, and mercifully, the music festival is canceled the day after the chicks hatch.
And oh my goodness, those babies! Little pom-poms with legs, running around and stressing out the volunteers (and me!) who are trying to keep tabs on the plover family and ensure their safety. Will the babies make it? Will Monty and Rose successfully fend off the relatively giant and hungry gulls? Or an army of TWELVE killdeer?
Dolgan skillfully splices footage of the busy beach, the endearing plovers, potential predators, and interviews with caring birders and volunteers who have fallen in love with Monty and Rose. The footage is complemented by a well-timed soundtrack that accentuates the viewer’s journey of emotions.
I’m not sure at what point I became this person who laughs and cries while watching bird documentaries for fun, but here we are. And I’m better for it, for knowing more about how endangered the piping plover is (only 8,400 individuals are left in the world), and in particular the plight of the Great Lakes region’s population (only 71 pairs), and specifically feisty little Monty and Rose and their offspring. I will most certainly be responding affirmatively to the film’s closing appeal to “stay involved.”
To watch the film and learn more about Monty and Rose, visit the film’s official website. For a mere $1.99, you can rent the film for 24 hours, or make the small leap to buy it for just $4.99, as you will surely want to watch it more than once. You can also make donations and support the Monty and Rose shop, with proceeds benefitting the production of a second film telling the next chapter in their story, when the plovers returned to Montrose Beach in the summer of 2020.
About the Author
Jessica Melfi is Assistant Editor for Bird Watcher's Digest and Watching Backyard Birds. She is the mother of four young birders and lives in Columbus, Ohio.