Reproducing Hope

"Thankz u Todd Pover." LBI's legendary T2 the Oystercatcher gets a second chance thanks to a tough but absolutely correct call by New Jersey's Beach Nesting Bird Hero, Todd Pover.
“Thankz u Todd Pover.” LBI’s legendary T2 the Oystercatcher with a shiny new egg, after he got a second chance thanks to a tough but absolutely correct call by New Jersey’s Beach Nesting Bird Hero, Todd Pover.

We generally don’t like to repeat ourselves here on Readings From The Northside, and we certainly don’t like to repeat ourselves. But considering how it came to light that a reader got the impression I was deceased from some recent Readings, let’s put safety first and retell the story of T2 the Oystercatcher.

T2 is LBI’s oldest and most experienced American Oystercatcher. He is also our most photographed bird. If you’ve ever been to Barnegat Light State Park and seen an American Oystercatcher, chances are it was T2. If you’ve ever been to Barnegat Light State Park and heard a horrendously cacophonous, annoyingly loud beeping that killed your buzz while you attempted to peacefully strolled the rocks, chances are it was T2; sharing the park in his own special way by not letting any other American Oystercatcher come anywhere near the place.  Except of course, his femme-du-season.

T2 and this season's mate Linda Hamilton comin' hot to let a newbie Oystercatcher know the park is "closed"
T2 and this season’s mate, Linda Hamilton, comin’ hot to let a newbie Oystercatcher know the park is “Closed, permanently.”

T2 is named for the flashy identification band he sports. He is the undisputed King of the North End’s primo territory, and has been for years. Sadly, T2’s nests have failed every year for the past 7 seasons. Even worse, none of those nests even made it to its hatch date. The eggs were destroyed by human disturbance and predators each year, long before the eggs of T2 and his mates even had an itty bitty chance of making itty-bitty-baby Oystercatcher.

Except for this year.

Happy Hatch Date. T2 & Lind Hamilton laid down an innovative, one-egg strategy and never let it out of site.
Happy Hatch Date. T2 & Linda Hamilton laid down an innovative, one-egg strategy, and stuck to it like glue.

T2 and Linda Hamilton obviously strategized pre-season this year. Instead of laying a big ‘ol clutch of eggs back in the dune, Linda Hamilton dropped only a single egg, right near the entrance to the park, right next to the public walkway, right in the middle of everything and everybody. This dicey manueveur obviously murder-balled everybody at the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, all of whom spit out their coffee in surprise, and immediately began fencing off the area with anything they could find. Within 24 hours, a proper enclosure was built around the nest site thanks to the hard work and compassion of good folks like Karen Leu, Allison Anholt, and Todd Pover.

Amazingly, it worked. Hatch day came and no one who knew this bird’s backstory could believe it. Bottles of Champagne were being chilled and cigars carefully unwrapped and placed in humidors for the big celebration.

But hatch day came, and hatch day went. Each day that passed, it became more and more painful to watch T2 protecting that egg, so sure that he’d make it if he hung in there just a little bit longer. I couldn’t even write a post about it. Blech, what a downer.

After two weeks had slipped away, it was clear something was wrong and the probability was favoring that this egg was a complete and total dud. It was the saddest story and tiniest of tragedies. Could it really be infertile? What a cruel joke. It’s like saving your whole life for a trip to Europe and then, when you have finally saved enough, realizing you are too old and too sick to go.

T2, lost and bewildered
T2, lost and bewildered.

Todd Pover is the Beach Nesting Bird Director for the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ and with that title comes many magical super powers. But with great power also comes great responsibility. Todd had the authority to pull this apparently dud egg from the nest. Given enough time, most beach nesting birds will create new nests to replace ones that receive cruel fates. Removing the egg could give T2 & Linda Hamilton a second chance before it became too late in the season to try again. But to a pull a viable egg would take T2’s, and Todd’s, tragedies to a whole new level.

Long story short, Todd made the call to pull the egg, we can assume with great personal, internal hemming & hawing. This man loves our Wildlife like few others. He more than anyone in New Jersey knows how important the success of each and every nest is to the survival of this incredible species. Poor Karen Leu got the job of actually taking T2’s precious egg, that he had gone all Gollum on for the last month, away from him. Trust me: You don’t want to hear her describe Linda Hamilton returning to the nest, looking lost and bewildered when the egg she just knew had to be there, was not, then hearing the fight that ensued when T2 returned and Linda Hamilton tried to explain to him something she never understood in the first place.

It was a strange sort of relief when the egg came back from the lab, officially, a dud.

T2 returns to a simple life of loafing around the park, never cursing his life, but always wondering why he can't catch a break.
T2 returns to a simple life of loafing around the park, never cursing his life, but always wondering why he can’t catch a break.

And so it went down. In the uncertain days after the initial egg-pulling, many folks were excitedly searching for signs that T2 & Linda Hamilton might be doing the things lovers do in preparation for a new nest.  But as the weeks passed, T2 and Linda Hamilton appeared to be ready to spend their summer like many a Summer visitor to LBI: not doing much of anything.

Until Today

Until Today
T2, as happy & shocked as the rest of us this morning. Introducing a Second Chance at T3. You’re gonna have to look carefully, right under T2’s chest. Oystercatcher eggs are engineered to be invisible in the sand.

Murderball! I spit my coffee all over the beach this morning when I first saw the incredible gift that arrived last night. A brand new egg in a brand new nest.

This is not just an egg. This is a second chance. And to know that we have second chances in this world… well that just stinks of hope, and who doesn’t love a little hope?  We’ll sure need plenty of it to see this egg through. The odds are still severely stacked against T2 & Linda Hamilton turning this egg into a next generation of Oystercatcher. But without an opportunity and a little hope, we’d have nothing.

T2 has many fans, both on and off our little Island. He has delighted many-a-visitor and is an important part of the mix of cool things you can see at the beach. But what many folks don’t realize is that when they say  stuff like “there are interesting birds at Barnegat Light, like Oystercatcher” they are really referring to just an individual animal and its mate (ditto for our star Piping Plover pair Tufters & Tacey), who are cared for tirelessly by a small group of heroes operating silently behind the scenes, because they realize what’s at stake for all of us.

Cheers to Todd, Karen, Allison, and all the good people who care for T2 and all of our endangered and threatened species, keeping the beach a little more wild for for the rest of us. Today we know for sure you did a good thing for T2, for Oystercatcher, and for us when you pulled that egg. A really good thing.

Support hope. Support second chances. Support the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ!

Real photo: Tufters & T2 put there differences aside, for just a moment, to thank Todd Pover & The CWFNJ
Real photo: Tufters & T2 put their differences aside this morning, for just a moment, to pose & thank Todd Pover & The CWFNJ for giving them a chance.