Bittersweet Symphonies: Changeover Days

The last Snow Bunting leaving LBI watches the first Piping Plover arriving dig himself a home for the Summer.
Pics, Or It Didn’t Happen: The last Snow Bunting leaving LBI watches sadly as the first Piping Plover arriving joyfully digs himself a home for the Summer.

Here’s something fun to do: if you want to titillate your emotions, set up a chair in the Ron Jon parking lot, right at Causeway’s entrance to LBI, on any Saturday in Summer. Watch the eastbound traffic: loads of smartly packed vehicles, windows down, smiling children hanging out the windows smelling the salt air, Mom and Dad in shades; the picture of happiness. Then look westbound. Windows up, kids in tears, and Mom and Dad looking like a wide range of things, none which are “joyful”.

For Saturday is Changeover Day; that bittersweet day when the last week’s rentals end and the next week’s begin. It is the day that your old friends leave by 11 AM and your new ones arrive at 2. Note: It’s also fun to take two swims that day… a sad one in the morning with all the folks taking their last dip for the year, and a happy one in the afternoon with all those taking their first.

Look at how happy that little PIPL is. He is digging his Scrape: a shallow little impression in the sand where the world's most adorable animal will be born, provided you don't step on them.
Look at how happy that little PIPL is. I swear he is smiling. “Iz just got here! Iz safe here! Todd Pover will take care of me. He has to! Itz his job!” He is digging his Scrape: a shallow little impression in the sand where the world’s most adorable animals will be born, provided you don’t step on them.

In our own little human bubble filled with Summer Vacations & Memories, we keep things nice and tight. Everyone leaving is gone by noon, and no one arriving arrives before. And every cleaning person in New Jersey is hustling somewhere in between. But in the real world of the wild Island things are not so clear during the Changeovers. The Island’s animals play it more like “Yeah, come anytime on the weekend, and leave anytime on the following weekend.” And it’s even worse, because they do it by Season.

And so here we are. A crazy time of year when you can look one way and you’ll see a Snow Owl macking on duck dinner, turn your head the other, and you see Piping Plover moving in.

The opening photo of this post tells the true story of the Island’s Changeover, from Winter to Spring residents. That is an Arctic Snow Bunting. Snow Bunting usually fritter around the beach in small flocks, but this was just a single, solitary Snow Bunting; probably the only one left on the Island. While most Piping Plover are in the midst of migration, this one is digging in and has already started his courtship, trying to woo a lady friend by showing  her what nice little scrapes he can make. It is noisy business with lots of peeping, and that sad, little Snow Bunting was ever so interested. He was trying to make the magic last and extend the Winter just a few more days and delay that flight back to the Arctic as long as he could by playing with the PIPL.

But the PIPL wanted nothing to do with him. It was the saddest little scene.  He tried to peep with the PIPL, making awkward little noises, and when they flew, he tried to fly with them, but just couldn’t keep up. Besides, there was no point. The Changeover is on.

It’s a good thing we Islanders have our Changeovers so well organized. Bobby Leaving-Today should probably never swim with Sally Just-Arrived. It is a toxic mix of emotions. Bobby’s sadness will just bring Sally down on the happiest day of her life, and Sally’s joy will only make the Bobby’s sad departure that much more painful.

The wild Island’s Changeover Day has arrived. Prepare to say farewell, and get psyched to say, Welcome Home.

Mr. Handbersome look to the Northwest. Could this be his parting shot?
Mr. Handbersome looks to the Northwest. Could this be his parting shot?
Sunny at Sundown Last Night, Looking North in unsettling manner.
Sunny at Sundown Last Night, looking north in a most unsettling manner.