If you do enough seasons on any one Beach, you’ll start to recognize certain recurring characters. Some may be homeowners in the neighborhood, others may rent the same house nearby each Summer, or some might be local surfers who happened to figure out that your Beach has a particularly wicked high tide break.
Though you may never meet them, it is difficult not to give these characters names and assign them personalities, if only as a way of referring to them effectively when talking to your friends and family.
Husband: “Hey, you know who I saw today? iPod Girl.”
Wife: “You mean that girl from the family with the studded flip flops?”
Husband: “No those are ‘The Kardashians’. They rent in August.”
Wife: “Oh, the girl whose mom is Lizard Lady?”
Husband: “No, that’s Speedo Man’s wife. I mean iPod Girl. That girl who always walks holding the iPod above her head and never smiles.”
Wife: “Oh, iPod Girl! I call her ‘Frowny Smurf’!
Having eventually met a few people I’ve seen on the Beach for years, I learned that I’ve been affectionately nicknamed everything from “Mr. Hat” to”Lord of The Ring” to “Earthworm Jim”.
And so it is with our wild animals. If you watch for long enough, you’ll soon realize that the animals around us are not just random, interchangeable, representatives of some species, but actual individual characters who love this Island as much as the rest of us, and live right here among us, season after glorious season. Just like the humanz we silently observe from the comfort of our beach chairs, these wild characters often reveal themselves clearly through their unique behavior and quirks. There is no mistaking Mac Daddy, North Beach’s oldest and most experienced Herring Gull, when he raids your CheezIts. But coming up with definitive proof is another story.
I had been on the Island for more than 24 hours hunting around for banded Piping Plover when I began to feel a bit remiss about not going to Barnegat Light State Park to find Tufters. We already know that Todd Pover, the Beach Nesting Bird Director for the State of NJ, secretly favors our own Barnegat Light State Park as the coolest habitat in NJ and its sole, male, breeding Piping Plover Tufters as his favorite bird anywhere. Keeping our endangered species from being completely eradicated from our Coast is tough, thankless work, and I really wanted to give the good folks at the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ some good news. The news that Tufters is safely home.
As Mr. Pover describes it, identifying an unbanded Piping Plover over multiple seasons is a bit of Parlor Game, based mostly on knowing an animal’s tiny quirks and preferences. I’m usually content to rely on the important scientific principles of Vivid Imagination, Wishful Thinking, and Delusional Desperation to make a positive ID on an individual animal. But this year, I felt we really needed to know. For shark.
Heading out on a rainy day to play this Season’s Parlor Game with an intensity and enthusiasm that rings a bit like Insanity, I soon found an adorable PIPL. Desperate for it to be Tufters as I approached, I completely ignored my initial, immediate instinct that this was Tacey, Tufter’s ol’ Lady from 2014, that I was looking at. We spent the afternoon goofing around, eating werm, and sleeping, giving me plenty of time to tell myself this was Tufters. By the time I got home I had convinced myself that this was Tufters thoroughly enough to shoot an email off to Todd Pover, most likely subjected “It’s Turtley Tufters!11!!!!”
But not convinced enough to share the news with you, dear Reader, as something troubled me deeply. The knees. Tufters had the gnarliest, itty-bitty legs you ever saw, and they show up in almost every Tufters photo ever shown here. His left knee has a goofy, scaly little growth, and his right knee has a bizarre, dark scar that looks like he took some shrapnel in the Great Plover War. And this Plover didn’t have them. Something was not right.
When we nickname things we recognize, but don’t necessarily know, on the Beach, we can freely reuse those nicknames with similar characters. If the real Speedo Man fails to show one Summer, you can happily call the next guy wearing a pair of classic Speedo swim trunks “Speedo Man” and keep the magic going. But Tufters is a very real, little boy, and a very real name. He is a mating Piping Plover that chooses Barnegat Light and LBI for his summers because it is the finest spot on the Jersey Shore. He is one of us.
Determined to be sure, with all of the thoroughness of an amateur journalist, who occasionally makes stuff up, can muster, I headed back out to double check those legs. After all, a Winter in the Bahamas does a Plover quite well, as it would do us. They can come back looking quite refreshed and regenerated, especially compared to the haggard condition you find them in after raising four chicks in the middle of a crowded State Park on the Jersey Shore. But I was hoping for some clue, some itty-bitty piece of evidence.
Heading back out, I immediately stumbled upon a pair of mating PIPL, with one adorable little PIPL Goosestepping up on the bird I had hoped a few days previously was Tufters. And that’s when I realized; it was not Tufters I had seen at all the time before; it was Tacey.
And when Tufters dug a little scrape for Tacey, he turned to present it to her, and to present to us, his gnarly little shrapnel knee:
And with that, we can enthusiastically, and confidently, proclaim that the Party PIPL Are In The House: Tufters is Home.
Best of all, we can also quite possibly proclaim not only that Tacey is home too, but that she loves LBI so much that she arrived back here first and got right to work preparing a home to spend the Summer with everyone’s favorite PIPL, Tufters. But to prove that, we’ll have to wait for another day….
Because this particular Parlor Game, is exhausting.
He’s not too Tall, He’s a Little Bit Small… Everybody Knows, It’s Tufters!