In 1990, the entirety of the Great Lakes Piping Plover population had declined to a dozen pairs, all clustered in northern Michigan. Habitat deterioration had placed Charadrius melodus on the endangered species list. It was within the realm of possibility that the “dreary peep” of the Piping Plover, as described by Thoreau, would fade away from the Great Lakes forever.
Last year was a banner year for Great Lakes Piping Plovers, thanks to the Great Lakes Piping Plover Conservation Team, which monitors, bands, and rears Piping Plovers. Great Lakes Piping Plovers fledged 150 chicks in the wild from 72 breeding pairs—the highest number of fledglings for decades and decades.
“They’re our recruits for this year,” says Stephanie Schubel of the Conservation Team. “If they made it through the winter, they could bump us up. My plover gut tells me we could have one or two more sites next year. It has to be a male and female landing at the right spot and pairing up.”
After a few years of near-record water levels, the Great Lakes have receded. That means wider beaches, more habitat, and more space to share with people. An abnormally dramatic alewife die-off may have had an impact, too.
“Maggots and bugs are good food sources for plover chicks,” Schubel says of the dead alewives. “The shoreline was looking beautiful, and we didn’t have any real big storms that affected nests and caused washouts.”
Last year’s success was achieved without nesting plovers in Chicago and Ohio (much to our disappointment on the southern tier of the lakes). However, Monty and Rose’s chick, Imani, returned to spend last June at Montrose Beach. He failed to attract a mate despite fiercely defending territory within the protected Montrose Beach Dunes Natural Area. His presence has us optimistic for a return this year, though he wasn’t reported from the wintering grounds.
“It really doesn’t mean that much [that he went unreported],” Schubel says. “So many birds migrate through Chicago. It only takes one female to be enamored with him. Even if it’s not Imani, there’s hope for another pair to land there. You have so many people watching and keeping a lookout on the space.
“Fledglings had a stellar year in Green Bay and Long Island [Wisconsin]. The Apostle Islands with six nests have been a stronghold. I feel confident you’ll get another pair.”
Winter observers have been fearful of the impact of Hurricane Ian and a few cold snaps. Mia Majetschak, the Chicagoan-turned-Florida resident who kept tabs on our beloved Rose last winter, recently spotted five plovers on Anclote Key, Fla., including birds from Michigan, New York, and Ontario. The sightings provided optimism.
One bird, though, garnered extra attention on the Great Lakes Piping Plover Facebook page:
And last but not least, one that my heart definitely throbs for, is the 1-year-old Silver Lake State Park, MI hatch O,G:X,- (Ydot, G403), the only fledgling that survived Silver Lake in 2022, who happens to be a half-sibling to the famous “Monty” of Chicago.
We know where individual plovers go because they are banded as chicks (“O,G:X,-” and other terms identify their leg bands). Even with sharp-eyed observers, it is hard to know exactly how the plovers have fared on the wintering grounds of the Gulf and elsewhere. Schubel says the first arrivals could be as early as April 7, when there still may be snow on the beaches of the upper lakes. Monty’s dad, YOGi, is often an early arrival at Silver Lake.
“We won’t know the details until the spring, but we’re always hopeful.”
Learn how to watch the "Monty and Rose" documentaries here.