Yesterday a long-time Chicago birder posted that there were 91 Willets -- yes, 91 Willets -- on Montrose Beach. As he was watching the flock of Willets, a dog owner and his mutt went into the protected area (which is off-limits to dogs) and flushed the entire flock.
Now, 91 Willets is probably a lot of Willets for just about anywhere in the U.S., but in Chicago, it's simply incredible. We've been birding for a long time and in our collective lifetimes we haven't seen a total of 91 Willets in Chicago, much less in one single flock. So this sighting is a big deal, and it was ruined -- again -- by a stupid, inconsiderate, and law-breaking dog owner.
We realize that for a lot of our readers it might seem unusual that we spend so much time on certain issues...dogs on the beach, addling of goose eggs, chasing gulls with Border Collies...but in an urban environment, that's what we have to work with. There is really no shorebird habitat (apart from the Calumet area) in Chicago except for these heavily trafficked beaches, and these beaches are absolutely critical stopover habitat for things like Willets.
So let's tie things together...the idiots at the City of Chicago are supposedly paying outside contractors upwards of $45,ooo to use dogs to chase gulls off of Chicago beaches including Montrose Beach. The City, in its infinite wisdom, instead of keeping its stupid decisions to itself, decides to heavily publicize this effort on the local media.
Let's imagine that a big flock of Willets lands on Montrose Beach. To the average non-birder they probably don't look any different from a flock of Ring-billed Gulls, especially at a distance and without binoculars.
So is anyone really surprised when a stupid dog owner sees nothing wrong with unleashing his mongrel on the flock of 91 Willets? Is the City of Chicago going to spend $45,000 to see that this doesn't happen again? And how can they enforce the dog-ban on that part of Montrose Beach when they're actually hiring companies to run dogs a few feet away on the rest of the beach? Doesn't the City realize the messages they are sending to the public at large -- that it's OK to have your pets chase away all of those dirty birds on the beach?