The Farewell To Tufters

The Last Known Photo of Everyone's Favorite Plover:  Tufters!
The Last Known Photo of Everyone’s Favorite Plover. He’s not too tall, he’s a little bit small, everybody knows… it’s Tufters!

As the Summer Season comes to an end, when we first notice that it is dark on the Boulevard and it is only 8 PM, most of us become mixed bags of feelings including rich memories of some recently had good times, sullen sadness that another Summer is closing, an excitement for the brilliance of a coming Autumn, and that subtle anxiety we feel when moments of transition highlight just how quickly our lives are passing us by. Nothin’ like the last hurrah of Labor Day to trigger the realization that we are riding a momentous wave of time into an uncertain future.

Lucky for me, I’m free of all such Labor Day melancholy this year, thanks in no small part to our good friend Tufters, LBI’s most famous Piping Plover. If you think the sound of screaming crickets, changing color foliage, early sunsets, or the passing of Labor Day trigger the end-of-season blues, you should try embedding yourself in the life-cycle of the Island’s Summer wildlife. Tufters finished his Summer on LBI and flew off to his Bahamian Winter Paradise well over a month ago, with little fanfare and zero goodbyes. Classic Plover. The realization that Tufters and family were gone was such an end-of-summer-bummer at the time, all the season-is-over sadness was sucked right out of me. A big part of Summer ended for me when Tufters flew. I just didn’t have the heart to write about it at the time.

So this Labor Day, instead of bringing you a traditional Readings From The Northside, downer, official-end-of-summer-bummer Reading,  I bring you the fantastic and fantastically late news that Tufters & Tacey, the Northside’s sole pair of Piping Plover this year, successfully raised three itty bitties smack dab in the chaotic middle of Barnegat Light State Park. That’s right. While they lost their fourth child, ‘lil Franz, soon after he was born, the three remaining itty bitties, Coppelia, Swanhilde, and Tufters Jr. all lived to fledge (fly)  and we can safely assume they are on their epically long journey to their wintering grounds. I think it is a safe bet that they are headed to the Bahamas in hopes of seeing our Beach Nesting Bird Hero, Todd Pover, who happens to also be a Bahamian Plover Hero after receiving some massive grants from Disney to learn more about just where these adorable little creatures spend the winter.

Last Known Photo of Coppelia & Swanhilde. Little Ladies.
Last Known Photo of Coppelia & Swanhilde. Such Little Ladies.

It was a rough year for Plover in New Jersey, with a record low number of pairs coming to breed here (ditto with some other states as well). But on the upside, the Plover that did decide to throw down at the Jersey Shore this Summer had a fantastic success rate and produced large handfuls of adorable itty-bitty-baby Plover. Sadly, the handful was not quite large enough that anyone would let me keep one.

The small band of heroes from the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, and all of the Citizen Plover Heroes who helped protect and promote our treasured Piping Plover should certainly be adding Tufters’ and Tacey’s success to a long list of things to be celebrated this weekend. And cheers to LBI for successfully hosting the adorable Tufters and family.

These critters loved our Island long before we did, and were in fact, created to live here. For over a century we did them wrong: starting with over-hunting them (for feathers for ladies’ hats of all ridiculous things), then steamrolling all of their habitat for our Summer pleasures, and finally by resisting the realization that we’d gone too far and continuing to harass them even when we knew we should give them a hand.

But the tide is turning and each year more people are joining the side of the Good Guys, deciding that cruelty to animals is in fact uncool, becoming people who enjoy the outdoors in addition to the Boardwalk, and recognizing the immense value of the Shore’s finest attribute: its natural wonders. More good people are recognizing that we screwed up and now we have a responsibility to help fix things. While there is still a loud chorus of unbalanced and downright crazy Anti-Plover propaganda out there, those voices are starting to show their age and be appropriately recognized for the selfish, ignorant, cruelty they espouse: a selfish cruelty that has been slowly degrading our Wild Beach and ruining our Good Times for too long. To think that some folks are still gleefully willing to snuff out our coolest and most adorable wildlife just so they can walk themselves and their dog “here” instead of “there” shows such a disregard for animal welfare someone should immediately remove those dogs from their unfit care!

Tufters Jr.: The Final Photo
Tufters Jr.: The Final Photo

Tufters’ success raising & fledging itty bitties at Barnegat Light State Park in the 2014 Summer Season is a victory not only for everyone’s favorite Plover, Tufters, but also a victory for the future of the Wild Beach. It demonstrates that we and our wild friends can in fact share the beach and enjoy the Island together. Sure it is a little dicey and a little chaotic, but it worked. We gave Tufters a tiny slice of LBI real estate and in return we got to enjoy Barnegat Light State Park’s finest attribute, its wildness, and a front row seat to the adorable lives of its wildness’ crown jewel, the endangered and totally itty-bitty Piping Plover. Best of all, all the hard work was done for us by Todd Pover, Allison Anholt, and Karen Leu who spent countless hours caring for Tufters and family this season. All they asked in return is that we show a small modicum of personal responsibility and integrity by conceding that nature is an important part of our human beach experience. All they asked is that we not act like complete and total, selfishly cruel idiots.

Anyone who followed along with the Readings this season knows that I went all Life Of Pi with Tufters in 2014, spending countless hours lost in the wilderness with only Tufters to keep me company. From the moment I first found him on a cold, desolate March morn, to watching him blunder through lonely bachelorhood and failed first dates, to showing great impropriety by filming his mating with Tacey, to getting a bird’s eye view of the sacred Courtship Flight, and witnessing the birth of the itty bitties, and the death of poor Franz, I am bonded forever to this bird.

And just like Richard Parker at the end of Life of Pi (Spoiler Alert!), you might be wondering if Tufters, just before he flew off to meet his destiny, turned to look at me lying in the sand one last time, acknowledging our experience together, acknowledging our bond, saying Farewell.

I’ll never tell.

Farewell Tufters
Farewell Tufters