The Wonders From Under The Causeway

The Wonder
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She’s not looking at you, dude.

As a child, one of my favorites parts about crabbing in Barnegat Bay was the boat ride, of course. And a highlight of every trip was that moment we would come upon the Bay’s largest obstacle, our local focal point, The Causeway. For that brief moment when you pass beneath the bridge between the bumpers, when the vast expanse of water and sky is suddenly contained by walls of concrete and ceilings of steel, you can hear the fast, sharp echoes of the cars speeding above you and wonder for a few seconds if this might be the precise moment when the whole things collapses on your family. Considering all the possible outcomes and resultant injuries from such an event, I would always conclude in the end that I would rather be driving across in a car when it collapsed than crushed underneath it in a boat. Ahhh, the wonders! Such sweet memories.

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She’s looking for Peregrine Falcon. And that woman is none other than New Jersey’s own Kathy Clark, and that Peregrine is none other than our very own bridglete, Billie.

It’s a special thrill to report that we now we have a whole new set of wonders awaiting us beneath the Causeway. This time, in the form of the amazing and adorable Peregrine Falcon.

Readers with moderate to sharp medium-term memories might remember the 2015 Reading, Our Very Own Bridglets. Last spring it was reported by crews building LBI’s fancy new bridge that a serial killer was murdering all of the pigeons they liked to feed while on their lunch breaks along the piers. Investigators promptly checked the crime scene and soon discovered that Billie, a young, banded Peregrine Falcon from Maryland had chosen the soon-to-be-demolished Causeway for her summertime rental. Apparently she had discovered, like many of us, how much better LBI is compared to the Eastern Shore (though, like any good Marylander, she is known to still make lots of snobby and condescending comments about our local crabs)

Quick cooperation between the NJ DOT and State wildlife officials tweaked the construction schedule so as not to ruin Billie’s Summer on the Bay by needlessly and inadvertently killing her and her family. Fortunately she did not nest there on top of the cramped piers last season, which gave everyone a chance to spring into action, go all-out, and to build her a fancier, more family appropriate eyrie on the new Causeway bridge in case she ever returned. After all, who wouldn’t return after spending a summer on LBI?

Well, return she did, and we can only imagine her delight when she found the gorgeous new construction waiting for her this season: “The Gem Of The Bridge.” You can read all about this stunning new residence and the thoughtfulness that went into constructing it in the 2015 Reading, Gem Of The Bridge.

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The Right Stuff. Ben Wurst suits up to see how Billie is making out in her fancy new digs this season.
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Staring in Wonder. Tara from Parsons Brinckerhoff and biologist Tina Shutz from the NJ DOT (both responsible for building the Gem Of The Bridge), and Conserve Wildlife Foundation’s very own Ben Wurst look up and wonder if Billie appreciates all of their efforts and if she’s tastefully appointed her sweet crib with the ultimate PEFA coastal living tchotchke: babies.
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Kathy Clark is ready with her legendary feather duster as they prepare to ride a lift parked on a barge parked under the piers to visit the Gem Of The Bridge.
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Billie looks on.
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Movin’ on up.
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Things were not looking too good as the lift began to rise skyward towards the eyrie and the speeding traffic above. Billie just sat on the pier like a turd. Perhaps she hid no treasures in The Gem Of The Bridge. But then suddenly she dove from the pier and swung around the bulldozers on the barge…
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… launching skyward towards the lift…
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… but simply circled them, making a few faint cries, apparently just making sure they respected her Crib and understood that this was, indeed, where the magic happened. Or maybe Billie somehow knew that these people were not foes or predators, but unlikely allies. Maybe she knows they built her this sweet place she now calls home. Maybe she is grateful that, despite the enormity of the Causeway project, everyone took the time to consider lil’ ol’ Billie and how to work around her . Or maybe she is just scared of the feather duster.

So what kind of wonders did they find under the Causeway? Sadly, there was no room on the lift for a bonus beach bum with a camera. And so we paced nervously below like expectant parents. We would have been wondering all the while which was more desirable, to be driving over the Causeway when it collapsed, or floating beneath it on a rusty, old barge… but those thoughts were vanquished as we stared up at our fancy, immaculate, brand new, expertly constructed bridge, and marveled at Billie flying all around it and thriving there.

And thankfully, Ben Wurst had his GoPro running while they invaded Billie’s home. What they found there was doubly more adorable than we could have imagined. Enjoy this quick film of the event, and be sure to go full HD.

 

Welcome to the Island Lil’ Shaq and Lil’ Dutchman.

Billie and her unidentified mate are the closest thing we have to LBI’s very own nesting Peregrine Falcons. It is a thrill, and it is also a big responsibility. When watching the video be sure to get a look at the sweet eyrie which Parsons Brinckerhoff & the NJ DOT designed and installed for Billie. That’s probably the nicest eyrie you’ll ever see, with that barn door and many fine artisan touches. Having found such a magnificent place they are sure to return year after year, just like us.

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Download the poster. Print it. Keep it in your boat. If you happen to own a marina, baitshop, or anything that sends people under the Causeway, print and hang this poster so we can monitor our new babies. Click to download a PDF to print & hang.

While things are looking very hopeful for Lil’ Shaq and Lil’ Dutchman thanks to the kind intelligence & hard work of the NJ DOT & NJ Fish & Wildlife, the fact remains that bridges are difficult nest sites for Peregrine. The baby monsters are more or less safe in the eyrie, but when they are ready to take that first leap and discover the magic of flight, there is a risk they will take a literal plunge: right into the Bay below where they will promptly drown. That’s why this custom built eyrie was outfitted with spacious decking for the young-ins to stretch their legs, flap their wings, and otherwise build their itty-bitty muscles before it is time to take that first leap. With construction still ongoing, Shaq and  Lil’ Dutchman might make that first flight, but struggle to find a quiet place to land.

So that’s why all citizens traveling under the bridge are urged to keep an eye out for adorable Peregrine Falcon floating in the waters below the pier.

So whenever you pass beneath the Bay this season on one of your many summer adventures, take a moment to observe the Wonders Under The Causeway. Shaq & Dutchman will soon be taking flight and, if all goes well, will be murdering everything in sight from a top those piers. It should be quite a sight. And will help distract your mind from wondering if some jerk is about to throw a beer bottle off the bridge at the precise moment you’re coming out the other side.

Cheers to everyone who travels under, not over, the Causeway… here is hoping LBI’s citizen heroes can make a difference in the life of these two birds. Best of luck lil’ Shaq & lil’ Dutchman. Your success will put me one step closer to my ultimate dream of having Peregrine nest on my roof down the shore.