Mia Majetschak makes regular visits to Anclote Key, Florida, to check on wintering Piping Plovers. The 180-acre key isn’t necessarily an easy place to get to—it’s 3 miles off-shore and requires a ferry ride or having a catamaran or kayak.
Majetschak’s mode of transport is an inflatable catamaran. Getting to Anclote means encounters with dolphins, sea turtles and sharks and sailing some rough seas in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Once in a while you crash because the waves are too much or you rip a hole into the inflatable hull,” Majetschak says.
She was photographing Piping Plovers on Oct. 17 when she encountered one that had an air of familiarity. Maybe it was the unique leg band combination, which was similar to that of a bird she knew in her old Chicagoland haunts:
Of,RV:X,B (Orange flag on upper left leg, Red band over Violet band on lower left leg, Silver band on upper right leg and Blue band on lower right leg)
There might be only one Piping Plover in the world with those leg bands. That Piping Plover happens to be our beloved Rose, who’s nested the past three summers at Chicago’s Montrose Beach with her handsome beau, Monty.
“I was close to fainting when I saw the bands and knew it was her,” Majetschak says.
Rose wasn’t alone, though, Majetschak also located her 2020 offspring, Nish, who was in Florida after a successful year of making history of his own in Ohio.
“I love all plovers and birds and knowing the longtime efforts to save our Great Lakes plovers, I made it my ‘winter’ mission to find the birds,” Majetschak says. “Carrying the gear through the sand isn’t always fun but the moment I see the plovers all misery is forgotten and I am pumped.”
Majetschak’s encounter is just one of the plover highlights from this off-season. As we await the birds’ return, likely in late April, here's a rundown of all that’s happened since the Piping Plovers departed Chicago.
August 16 - Houston, we have a plover: Monty jets to Texas
We knew Monty was fast, but this fast? Kristen Vale, with the American Bird Conservancy, provided Chicago Piping Plovers with a digiscoped photo of Monty at...East Beach, Galveston, Texas. He was last seen on a Saturday morning in Chicago; two days later, he was in the Lone Star State. Yet another reason why we're fortunate to have plover spotters on the winter grounds as well as the breeding territory.
October 22 - A winter home for Ohio plover dearie Erie
Word came on Oct. 22, that Erie, one of Nish and Nellie’s 2021 chicks, would be spending winter in the Detroit Zoo. Erie hadn't migrated from Maumee Bay when summer ended and had been treated previously at the zoo for an illness. Upon release, Erie stuck around the beach and didn’t migrate south. The decision was made to keep Erie in the zoo for the winter, and by all accounts the juvenile bird is healthy and comfortable there.
October 26 - Ida takes Gulf Coast by storm
Hurricane Ida was a Category 4 hurricane that made landfall east of Monty’s wintering ground, in Louisiana. Good news came on Oct. 26, when Vale shared a photo of Monty from East Beach in Galveston. Severe storms are some of the greatest threats Piping Plovers face.
December 21 - It's a girl!
Though Maumee and Ottawa haven’t been spotted this winter—nor Nellie for that matter--an interesting piece of news arrived about their sibling, Erie: It’s a girl! The gender of juvenile Piping Plovers is unknown until it becomes obvious when they return to the Great Lakes for breeding. Erie is enjoying her time at the zoo, where she loves “all kinds of bugs.”
We approach 2022 nesting season with a number of questions. What happened to Imani and Siewka, the chicks hatched to Monty and Rose last year? Will we see them again? Where will they show up?
What about Nellie and Nish, and offspring Maumee and Ottawa? Where will they be seen? Might we have Piping Plovers turning up in other unexpected places on the Great Lakes (see Indiana Dunes)? Will they hatch chicks of their own? The possibilities are endless.
Last but certainly not least, will Monty and Rose return again? When will they return? Migration journeys of 1,000-plus miles are not to be taken for granted. Sad to say, but it's not a fait accompli that Monty and Rose will be with us forever.
Until then, stay warm, keep birding and, as always, take pride in being part of the conservation success story of a lifetime!