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‘Magic Stump’ documentary highlights Illinois raptor hotspot


Perhaps you have heard of — or been to — Chicago’s amazing birding hotspot the “Magic Hedge” within the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary. It’s a fantastic site to watch birds near the Lake Michigan shoreline, especially during migratory seasons.

But did you know that, for the last decade or so, Illinois has had another “magic” hotspot? It’s known informally as the “Magic Stump,” and it’s literally a tree stump that is a bird magnet in the middle of a farm field a few hours’ drive south of the Windy City.

Birder and filmmaker Bob Dolgan, who made two documentary films about Chicago’s Piping Plovers “Monty” and “Rose,” has created a new documentary about the tree stump — and the birds and birders it draws in.

“The Magic Stump” is an engaging and delightful 20-minute documentary that features the Coles County tree stump that has attracted at least a half-dozen species of wintering birds of prey, including two rare-for-Illinois Prairie Falcons. The stump, the remnants of an Osage orange tree, serves as a hunting perch and roost site. It sits on private farmland three hours south of Chicago and becomes the focal point for birders from around the state and country.

The film features local experts Tyler Funk, Ron Bradley, and David Mott as they recount tracking the falcons and finding the stump. The story is adapted from Funk’s article, “Prairie Falcons of Coles County, Illinois” that appeared in the Summer/Fall 2017 edition of the Illinois birding journal, Meadowlark. Funk later placed a trail camera near the stump that provides unique access to the raptors in this unlikely setting.

“The Magic Stump” will make its Chicago debut Sunday, October 2, at 6 p.m. at Uncommon Ground Edgewater, with a seated dinner showing with dinner and drinks available. Dolgan will be on hand to introduce the film and share two other recent birding video stories. Dolgan’s films on “Monty” and “Rose” were accepted to multiple film festivals and broadcast on public television in Chicago and Detroit. “The Magic Stump” is the first of three films Dolgan is planning as part of “The Prairie State” series on the habitat that once dominated Illinois.

A Prairie Falcon perches on a utility pole near the “Magic Stump.” Photo by Ron Bradley

Prairie Falcons are western North America’s only endemic falcon species and are mostly known from the Rocky Mountain states, primarily found in sagebrush steppe. A few have wintered in Illinois through the years, but none with the frequency and visibility of those near the stump. Other species featured in the film include Northern Harriers, Rough-legged Hawks, Merlins, and a Snowy Owl.

The film’s first screening took place in Charleston, Illinois, on September 24, near the location of the stump, in partnership with nonprofit land trust Grand Prairie Friends. Other screenings are slated for Willow Springs at Imperial Oak Brewing on October 4; DuPage County (October 13), Chicago (October 27, virtual), Mattoon (December 2), Decatur (December 3), Springfield (December 15), and Will County (January 12). Dolgan says the film will eventually be available on Vimeo.

Dolgan wrote a “Hotspot Near You” report about the Magic Stump for our November/December 2022 issue. We’ll post it on our site soon.

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