Despite living near the lake and despite our growing fascination with birds, we've never visited Montrose Point Beach and Bird Sanctuary. The middle day of a three-day holiday weekend offered a great opportunity to make up for this, so off we went this morning.
It's a 20-minute walk east to the lake. Just beyond the end of our neighborhood are the "L" Red Line tracks, which are currently undergoing a complete renovation. This is a view looking back at the tracks from the opening of the adjoining alley: just about the most quintessential city view I can imagine.
And then, after few minutes of walking, you arrive here: a peaceful lake basking under big fluffy clouds, with a view of the city skyline to the south.
This whole area is lined with beaches. Montrose Beach, pictured above, is the third one down from our street. This is looking back north from whence we came.
When you're facing straight out toward the water, you could convince yourself that you're at any ocean beach.
But I bet most ocean beaches don't have an IBA next door. This is the Montrose Beach Dunes Habitat Area, a stretch of beach that nature has reclaimed after the city stopped "grooming" it, and which includes two of the roughly 200 remaining acres of panne habitat, a low, wet depression that occurs between dune ridges on the shores of the Great Lakes.
This area became famous throughout the city in 2019 as the nesting site of Monty and Rose, a pair of federally endangered piping plovers. Marking the latest step in this species' renaissance after it dwindled to just 13 breeding pairs in the 90s, Monty and Rose became the first plovers to nest in Chicago since 1948—and they accomplished this on one of the busiest beaches in the city.
It is here that Monty and Rose successfully hatched chicks in three successive years, battling all manner of over-curious tourists, off-leash dogs, foxes, skunks, birds of prey, rain, wind, hail, storm surges, and... balloons. One of their chicks from 2020, Nish, and his mate Nellie recently became the first pair of plovers to nest in Ohio in 83 years. (They've hatched four chicks of their own.)
The plovers have already flocked south (Monty is in Galveston, Texas and Rose is in Florida—not where I'd have chosen, but okay), but we were able to walk through the dunes on a sand path and imagine what it must be like to try to raise such tiny little chicks here. It's beautiful, and terribly exposed. As a distinguished scientist once said: life finds a way.
As we walked out onto the fishing pier, the city rewarded us with more amazing views. We also spotted an extension of the beach, part above and part below the water line, which was popular with the sea gulls (or water pigeons, if you prefer).
Walking out onto the pier, you're just staring out at nothing but lake. Turn around, and you can gape at one of the greatest skylines in the world.
The sun and clouds were clearly cooperating today.
Finally, we headed for the bird sanctuary. At this point, you forget you're in a city at all.
We didn't actually see a ton of birds, but fields like this were full of butterflies and dragonflies.
We sat down in front of this tree for a while, which did have a lot of warblers, finches, nuthatches and the like. We even saw a cedar waxwing taking a load off on the uppermost branch.
We walked about seven miles in total, even though we decided to take the bus home, shortly after this photo was taken. (None of the pictured boats are ours, if you're wondering.)
All I'm saying is that if anyone is looking to move to a place with (currently) stable and pleasant weather (I just knocked on wood), you could do worse than Chicago.