Apparently, “B’dayda Chip likes to pahty wicked-frickin’ hand at Bahneget Light”. At least that’s what we recently overheard eavesdropping on some migratory Piping Plover. If you’re having trouble understanding that, it is probably the lack of audio clues. Try saying it out loud in your best Boston accent, then allow me to translate: Apparently, a Piping Plover named “Potato Chip” enjoys having fun at Barnegat Light State Park.
Caption Translation: No Sir! (expression of disbelief) This worm is very exceptional. It is so large, and can feed so many, it is like a party platter. Perhaps we should find a convenience store to buy ample beer to accompany it. And some soda as well. But we should eat it quickly before we cause a traffic accident.
The 2015 Piping Plover migration from their wintering grounds in the Bahamas back to their breeding grounds along the Northeast coast was epic last week. On a single half mile stretch of LBI’s front beach there were an astounding 30+ PIPL, including a single group of 20 individuals. This place was crawling with adorable, itty-bitty PIPL. If 30 does not sound like much, remember we’re down to about 8,000 nesting pairs of these adorbz little beach bums left on this planet.
And when you’ve got that many PIPL to pick through, it’s a great opportunity to see something exceedingly rare.
Observant Readers will notice this is a rare banded Piping Plover. PIPL are banded with colored flags (“Canadian” style) or with tiny colored plastic bands, one on each thigh, as with this migrant. If the two bands are the same color, they are a New Jersey bird. If they are different, they are from the far-away land of “Massachusetts”.
This little fella’ has one band on each itty bitty thigh; one light blue, the other green. Piping Plover have a slightly higher statistical tendency for leg injury from banding than most other species, so are only banded for the most important scientific research, like figuring out why they are so adorable. That’s why you don’t see too many of them. And of the bands that are actually flying around out there, well, you don’t see too many of those either, mainly because they are excruciatingly tiny and irritatingly difficult to see.
Caption Translation: Mother of God. Stop looking at me. Take a picture, it will last longer. You fool. There are 40 other PIPL over there. But I guess you prefer me on account of my fancy bands. The Boston Red Sox are my favorite sports team.
And so “The Light Dawns Ova Mahblehead” as they say in Boston. From the photos above, it looks like we have a Massa-pipl on the Island. It turns out his name Potato Chip and was banded as a baby in 2012. He was “observed” in both 2014 and 2013 in Massachusetts, but it is not clear yet if he nested there or not. Whatever the case, Potato Chip is not alone.
Caption Translation: (eating) Do you have sharks on LBI? We have them on Cape Cod. They have very sharp teeth! (eating)
Given the reality of the rapidly declining population of Piping Plover on the planet, and the limited amount of banding taking place, there is a finite number of opportunities for New Jersey to score fresh PIPL points. Realistically, the only way New Jersey can score extra PIPL points is to take them away from someone else: by stealing some from other states. This is especially important since three of New Jersey’s banded PIPL abandoned us to nest in other states (1 to New York, 1 to Delaware, 1 to Virginia)
Caption Translation: Back off. You are acting like a player who sticks too close to the “Ghoul” during a game of “Ghouls”: a Massachusetts regional variety of the game of “tag” involving a home, safety base.
Since Piping Plover show incredible site fidelity and generally return to the same locations where they have nested successfully in the past, it is always challenging to snag a bird from another state. But some things look promising.
First off, Potato Chip does indeed like to party wicked-freaking hard at Barnegat Light. In fact, in 2013 he prospected for a nesting site there, but failed to find a mate so moved on. (Plus he had to do battle with Tufters, or “Tuftahs” as Dan & Potato Chip refer to him.) Dan on the other hand appears to be hanging tough on LBI for now, and even appears to have caught the eye of a young lady PIPL and is showing some signs of territoriality.
So if you see Dan or Potato Chip around the beaches of LBI, give them your best New Jersey welcome and do what you can to make them feel at home, which generally means leaving them completely alone. Understanding them can be difficult at times, but much easier than Ye Olde Colonial Terne Towne. Please don’t use the phrase “Beantown” for Boston (they hate that) and, remember that it is “Boston Garden” and “Public Common”, singular not plural, and for goodness’ sake, whatever you do, do not bring up Baseball.