A Plove Story

The Prize: A Sensible Woman
The Prize: A Sensible Woman in Humble Dress

Let’s talk about Plove. It is a well proven scientific fact that Piping Plover are the most awesome shorebird in world history. They are also quite endangered. Piping Plover have the nasty habit of breeding on large, open stretches of primo beach real estate in the Northeastern U.S. which makes them quite controversial. Now that the itty bitty PIPLs are returning to New Jersey for beach season after a long winter in the Bahamas, all sorts of humanz will commence annual grumblings about fences, beach closures, and the like, with all the fuss being over a bird you’ll probably never  see unless you look really, really, really carefully.

Beyond the controversy lies this sad fact: Piping Plover (A.K.A PIPLs) are the friendliest and most curious of all the shorebirds. An Osprey will rip your face off, an Oystercatcher will snub you, a Herring Gull will use for CheezItz (TM), a Ruddy Turnstone (A.K.A. Ruddy Buddy) will blow right past you. But if you sit, or better yet lie, peacefully in the sand for long enough with the Piping Plover, they will surround you, inspect you, pose for you, sing to you, and otherwise enjoy the beach with you. If you have a camera, they will bring their chicks over to you so they can get their pictures taken. It has been a long time since I’ve hung with the PIPL. I had almost forgotten how friendly they are as a species.

They are quick, active, funny, little things. They are talkative and have the most melodic little whistles, hence the “Piping” in their street name Piping Plover, and the “Melody”  in Charadrius Melodus, their fancy proper name.  The point is, all of this gregariousness makes the PIPL one of the easiest species to observe the rich, complex, and sweet lives of wild animals.

Don't fall in Plove. She's A Beauty.
Don’t fall in Plove. She’s A Beauty.

I’ve been spending some QT in the AM with a trio of itty bitty PIPLs who have arrived on LBI to enjoy the summer and create the world’s most adorable creature on the planet: The Piping Plover Chick. One of the trio is not like the others though: pale, lacking the classic black bandana, and missing that adorable orange beak. I asked Todd Pover, the Beach Nesting Bird Director, and Piping Plover Master, of the Conserve Wildlife Foundation on NJ what gives and got some thorough, but inconclusive scientific responses about “breeding plumage” and “maturity” and “wintering” and what have you.

See mah klassik markings? An accommodating little PIPL shows us the classic details.
See mah klassik markings? An accommodating little PIPL poses & shows us the classic markings.

But soon it became apparent that one of the brightly colored Plovers was not getting along too well with the other brighty, especially when it came to his proximity to our paler friend.

Poor capture, but the chase is on.
Terrible image capture, but I want to prove I’m not making this up. The chase is on. Our humble beauty is on the left, patiently waiting for the Victorious Knight who successfully defends her itty-bitty honor.

It turns out we had a classic Love Triangle on our hands. That made it conclusive for Todd. We were looking at a lightly colored Mama and Two Papas. Daddy PIPLs are aggressive and territorial when it comes to the ladies. There can only be one Big Papa this Summer.

MIIINNNEEEE!!!!!!!!11! A Lady’s Honor Defended.
Loser. Feathers Ruffled and Licking Wounds.
The Loser. Feathers Ruffled and Licking Wounds. Don’t worry little friend, there are more (but certainly not plenty) of PIPL on the beach.
The prize: Taking her back to your Super Happy Fun Fort (A.K.A., tire track)
True Plove. “Iz mah lady”. The prize: Taking her back to your Super Happy Fun Fort (A.K.A., tire track) Time to make the itty-bitties!

Little, itty bitty dramas like this are playing out up and down the beaches of New Jersey right now. Soon prime habitat will be closed to humans and fences will go up. Even I get annoyed by the fences and closures… but for the bizarre and non-sensical reason that the fences stop me from getting closer to the PIPL that I agree need some protection.

So do your best not to be annoyed and instead giggle at the thoughts of the tiny dramas playing out on a micro scale in the little portions of sands and dunes that are protected.  And if you can get over that mental hump of sharing just a tiny bit of our awesome and plentiful beach with another species, do the right thing and share a little more: give a little something to the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ to help them pay for those fences which can be so annoying.

Even better, buy yourself an adorable bird stuffed animal (a plush Snowy Owl!)  because 20% of the sale goes directly to the CWFNJ to help ensure that all these Plove Stories have Happy Endings. And everybody loves Happy Endings.

The End.