Making Islands Of Our Own

A Mother's Love. A Dead Skimmer is found still with her egg.
Black Skimmer Sings: "This Island's my land, that Island's your land!
Black Skimmer Sings: “This Island’s my land, that Island’s your land!”
Alf Breed: Looking for Beach Nesting Birds in all the right places.
Beach Nesting Hero Alf Breed: Looking for Beach Nesting Birds in all the right places.

The Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey & The NJ Department of Endangered & Nongame Species sure are lucky to have ex-Navy man Alf Breed on their Beach Nesting Bird team. You might think you shouldn’t need a boat and an experienced captain to find our local animals that are supposed to be nesting on our Beaches. But you do.

Black Skimmer Eggs found somewhere around the Island that is not the Beach
Black Skimmer Egg found somewhere around the Island that is not the Beach

Our four species of local Beach Birds (The Black Skimmer, The Piping Plover, The American Oystercatcher, and the Least Tern) have been all but kicked off our Island in our continuing quest to turn our delicate and impermanent little pile of sand into a throughly paved, well-fortressed, eternal Summertime playground. But the Beach Nesters love it here perhaps more than we do, so they absolutely refuse to quit. They called this Island home long before we started coming here, long before we decided that wearing bathing suits was compatible with “prudence”, and long before we finally developed enough poison to kill the mosquitoes that kept us off the Island in the first place.

If they don’t scratch out some kind of home somewhere among us, their whole species are doomed. So like most Islanders dealt devastating blows, our local Beach Nesting Birds don’t yak and complain; they get tough, and they get creative. They unite. They Rebuild.

Alf Breed surveys one of the many smelly, fly infested sedge Islands behind Barnegat Bay looking for Skimmers & Oystercatchers determined to raise their families on LBI, even if we won't have them.
Alf Breed surveys one of the many smelly, fly infested sedge Islands behind LBI on Barnegat Bay looking for Skimmers & Oystercatchers determined to raise their families on LBI, even if we won’t have them.
"See over there son? That's where your great-great-great-grand-pappy and all your ancestors once lived"
“See over there son? That’s where your great-great-great-grand-pappy and all your ancestors once lived. We live here now.”
While poor T2, LBI's most famous Oystercatcher, has failed for years to produce any young living among us at Barnegat Light State Park, another banded local Oystercatcher, "LH", quietly pumps out chick after chick hiding on a small Island in the Bay, just a half mile away from T2.
While poor T2, LBI’s most famous Oystercatcher, has failed for years to produce any young living among us at Barnegat Light State Park, another banded local Oystercatcher, “LH”, quietly pumps out chick after chick hiding on a small Island in the Bay, just a half mile away from T2.
"Daddy, why do they call us 'Beach Nesting' burdz?" asks a confused young Oystercatcher who has only known her grassy march Island and never set and adorable pink foot on the Beach.
“Daddy, why do they call us ‘Beach Nesting’ burdz?” asks a confused young Oystercatcher who has only known her grassy marsh Island, never having set one of her adorable pink feet on the Beach where she belongs.
There is some scientific debate about just how well adapted Beach Nesters are to living on grassy marsh Islands. But if you've ever had to find an Oystercatcher hiding from you on one of those Islands, you'd walk away thinking, "Pretty well adapted!"
There is some scientific debate about just how well adapted Beach Nesters are to living on grassy marsh Islands and just how long they’ve been living on them. But if you’ve ever had to find an Oystercatcher hiding exquisitely from you on one of those Islands, you’d walk away thinking, “Pretty well adapted!”
The Ultimate Egg Hunt. A well hidden Skimmer Nest.
The Ultimate Egg Hunt for poor Alf. A well hidden Skimmer Nest.
Don't try this at home. If you think it is easy to obliterate these nests by accidentally stepping on them in the sand, it is even more dicey when they are hidden in the thick grasses. Fortunately, the green head flies will drain most of your blood before you can do too much damage. Still, remember to enjoy these Islands from a distance. They are fragile and many f the animals living there are our most desperate and devastated locals.
Don’t try this at home. If you think it is easy to obliterate these nests by accidentally stepping on them on the wide open sandy beaches, it is even more dicey when they are hidden in the thick grasses and eel grass beds. Fortunately, the green head flies will drain most of your blood before you can do too much damage. Still, remember to enjoy these Islands from a distance. They are fragile and many of the animals living there are our most desperate and devastated locals.
Colony Collapse. Skimmers like to nest in large colonies, sometimes made up of thousands of birds. In Barnegat Bay we only have sad little colonies made up of a few pairs. But it is a start. Sadly, on re-survey of this colony, there appear to be no Skimmers. Just a lot of nom-nomed Skimmer Eggs.
Colony Collapse. Skimmers like to nest in large colonies, sometimes made up of thousands of birds. In Barnegat Bay we only have sad little colonies made up of a few pairs. But it is a start. Sadly, on re-survey of this colony, there appear to be no Skimmers. Just a lot of nom-nomed Skimmer Eggs.
A Mother's Love. A Dead Skimmer is found still with her egg.
A Mother’s Love. A Dead Skimmer is found still with her egg.
The Ghost Of A Chance. How this Barnegat Bay Colony perished will remain a mystery. But despite the risks and difficulties, these brave Skimmers will probably never give up their heritage: LBI.
The Ghost Of A Chance. How this sad, little Barnegat Bay Skimmer Colony perished will remain a mystery. But despite the risks and difficulties, these brave Skimmers will probably never give up their heritage: LBI.
Did she die protecting her egg?
Did she die protecting her egg, hiding it with her wing?

While the Skimmers & the AMOY seem to be making a decent go of it in the Bay, the Piping Plover & Least Terns are a little more fussy about their Oceanfront views. Like many Islanders, you’ve got your Bay lovers and your Ocean lovers. Skimmers & AMOY seem very well adapted to Bayside living, though you’ll mostly see them choosing nesting spots on Islands with tiny little sand beaches that feel more like home. For the PIPL & the LETE there is a chance that if we added a little extra sand around these Islands, much like we are doing to our own, they just might find them to be acceptable Summer rentals. The problem there is that the moment we starting adding sandy Beaches to our marsh Islands, every boat in the Bay will start landing there and the humans will outnumber the green head flies found there in no time.

Thinking outside the box, maybe we should build ourselves a new Island about a mile out. Since we go through such tremendous lengths & expense to engineer this wild and shifting piece of sand into something more reliable & stable, perhaps our time and money is better spent starting from scratch. We could build exactly what we want, and what we leave behind would soon become the spookiest and most magnificent wilderness on the planet.

Whatever the case, it is a thrill to know that our local animals are dealing with the devastating blows dealt to them by humans in the exact same way that local humans dealt with the devastating blows dealt to us by Mother Nature…. by refusing to give up, and rebuilding. While we appear on the surface to be at odds most of the time, local humans and local animals have a lot more in common than we sometimes assume. At a bare minimum, we both believe it is “LBI, or Die!”