Monty and Rose 2: The World of Monty and Rose is an efficiently paced, earnest documentary about two Piping Plovers in Chicago who became symbols of triumph. These two diminutive shorebirds changed a literal landscape for the better, offering hope to a community. With the odds against their survival, Monty and Rose faced conflict from both humans and the natural world. Directed by Bob Dolgan, Monty and Rose 2 is a follow-up to his 2019 documentary short, Monty and Rose, demonstrating the importance of protecting wildlife and the ripple effect it has on conservation – and our lives.
In the film’s brief introduction, we hear narrator, and ABA’s own, Greg Neise describing how he became interested in birds as a child. He says despite all his years spent birding, “Nothing could prepare [him] for the arrival of two little birds decades later.” It’s a bold statement, but the significance of a pair of Piping Plovers cannot be overstated. Their overall population is threatened, but the Great Lakes region’s population is federally listed as Endangered. With only around 70 pairs of Piping Plovers currently in the Great Lakes region, each pair of birds is crucial to the recovery of the population. Recovery efforts rely on people who care. One way to get people to care about wildlife is to share their stories. The story is in the details, and we know many of the details about Monty and Rose because of the Great Lakes Conservation Team and other volunteers, some of whom are featured in the film.
As we see in Monty and Rose 2, part of the team’s work is to monitor and band Piping Plovers. With this information, we know exactly who Monty and Rose’s parents are, where Monty and Rose hatched, and even when they met. Their first year together was at Waukegan Beach near the Wisconsin-Illinois border in 2018, and the following year the two reestablished their pair bond on Chicago’s Montrose Beach. Monty and Rose were the first pair of Piping Plovers to nest in Chicago city limits since 1948. For birders, this was both exciting and stressful news. The popularity of Montrose Beach for Chicagoans meant trouble for the birds. But they would have faced problems regardless. As Matt Igleski of the Illinois Ornithological Society aptly puts it, “For the birds to pick a spot that wouldn’t conflict with humans was basically impossible.”
One source of conflict was the Mamby on the Beach music festival, which was scheduled to take place on Montrose Beach in 2019. The festival would have had irreparable consequences for the birds, who were nesting. Monty and Rose found themselves in the middle of a battle they shouldn’t have to fight. But in the end, the birds won, and the music festival was canceled. Dolgan smartly doesn’t let Mamby on the Beach monopolize the narrative, even though it was headline news. Instead, he includes the festival controversy as merely one of many obstacles that Monty and Rose faced.
The story arc doesn’t linger too long on any one issue. Rather, Dolgan keeps the story measured and moving. There are touches of animation throughout, helping transition the narrative. They are a nice flourish to an otherwise straightforward, chronological approach. Narration is used infrequently, allowing the story to unfold via short snippets of interview clips layered over videography and still photography of the Piping Plovers. The footage of the birds is the best part; the images show that Piping Plovers, although small, are not insignificant. In one particularly emotional moment, we see photographs of a distressed Rose, who is watching her first nest be depredated. The photographs remind the audience that when we pay attention to animals, we notice that they too have inner lives. Moreover, they remind us that protecting wildlife has rewarding but difficult moments.
Dolgan packs a lot of conflict into the story of Monty and Rose and their perseverance. But it’s not all doom and gloom; Monty and Rose became ambassadors of wildlife protection, motivating the community to improve the ecology of their city. As a result, Monty and Rose 2 is also about the experience of humans bearing witness. Among them are journalists, environmentalists, and birders, who share their memories and reflections of Monty and Rose. It’s not only the “conservation success story of a lifetime,” but for these Chicago birders, it was the most meaningful experience in their birding lives. The important lesson taught by Monty and Rose is that “if you give wildlife an opportunity, it will come.”
In the fight to protect wildlife, a lot of the battle is simply getting people to care. Monty and Rose 2 shows us how, and makes clear that when people do, it is life changing. In one emotional moment, Tamima Itani of the Illinois Ornithological Society tearfully says, “We needed Monty and Rose more than Monty and Rose needed us.” The film proves that to be true. But to be willing to experience the highs of protecting wildlife, one must accept the inevitable lows. In the film, Piping Plover monitor Carol Cooper describes volunteering for an Endangered species as “a lot of heartache.” Dolgan has made a documentary that touches upon that heartache but concludes there is still plenty of room for hope, too. It’s the story of Monty and Rose, but it’s a lot more than just two birds, isn’t it?
Editor’s Note: Monty and Rose perished in the spring in 2022. Rose never made it back from the wintering grounds on the Gulf Coast while Monty died in early May from a fungal infection. With hope, another pair of Piping Plovers will nest in the area again. Imani, one of Monty and Rose's offspring, showed up on Montrose Beach on 4/25/2023 and remains there as of 4/26/2023.
Rachel Berardinelli is a bird photographer and nature enthusiast in New York City. When not photographing birds (her favorite is Black-crowned Night Heron) or volunteering in the city’s parks, she works as a lawyer. In Rachel’s spare time, she loves writing about both animal law and film for her websites.
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