Meet Plovermother

Photo credit Jenny Flexman

Plovermother, more commonly known as Tamima Itani, was born in Beirut, Lebanon, and grew up in the shadwo of the Lebanese civil war.  After completing her undergraduate studies at the American University of Beirut, she came to the US in 1984 to pursue graduate studies at Northwestern University. 

Armed with a doctoral degree in Biomedical Engineering, she joined the Medical Devices and Pharmaceutical Industries where she worked for 26 yrs as a regulatory professional, leading teams in seeking government approvals around the world.  One of her fondest projects was working on the first inhaled antibiotic for patients with cystic fibrosis.  A long-term study credited the drug to lengthening these patients’ lives by 11 months. 

In June 2016, she traveled with friends to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia, on her first trip to see elephants, giraffes, zebras, hippopotamus and more in the wild.  Her attention was continuously drawn to the colorful birds all around them, and she took scores of pictures.

Back home, she experienced significant “wildlife withdrawal” symptoms. There were no elephants or hippos in her yard, no giraffes or lions, but there were birds.  She started observing them and researching what they were, and by the end of September, she had noted 23 different species!  The first feeder went up, the first DSLR camera was purchased and her transition started from “bird muggle” – one who does not see or hear birds – to “bird wizard,” one who is continuously aware of the presence of birds and their habitat.  Since then, she has been in a passionate pursuit of birds, has been birding on a daily basis, and traveling on birding and nature trips in the US and abroad to see them.

At the end of May, 2019, she was intrigued by the visits of several Piping Plovers at Montrose Beach.  At one time, she witnessed three on the beach simultaneoulsy, including 2 males who were engaging in territorial behavior.

Soon, one of the males was chased away and the remaining male started courting the third plover.  The remaining male scraped a nest in the sand as the sun was setting.  Plovermother returned early the next morning, on June 4th.  The two plovers from the prior day were mating and scraping nests on the public beach, in a busy and highly trafficked area.

The nests were barely visible, anyone walking by could innocently step on them.  Tamima stood watch six hours that first morning, watching over the area and asking people to give it a wide berth.  She reached out to the site steward, representatives of the Chicago Park District, local birding societies and birding acquaintances, and was able to line up a few volunteers for the same day and the following 2 days.

To facilitate communication with others, she named the plover pair Monty and Rose, for the location.  The names have stuck and the pair continues to be known by them.

This was the beginning of a large volunteer effort she co-led with Carl Giometti, of the Chicago Ornithological Society, and Matthew Igleski, of the Illinois Ornithological Society.  Thirteen weeks, nearly 200 volunteers and 1200 volunteer-hours later, not to mention a second nest and two egg clutches, Chicago and Cook County witnessed the hatching of three endearing chicks for the first time in 71 years.


© T. Itani 2021.  All images subject to copyright and may not be copied or used without permission.

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