Awkward Chick

team-suny-barnegat-light-plover
The Right Stuff. An all-star team of Michelle Stantial, Rebecca Linhart (RELI), Kyle Dudgeon (KYDU), Meghan Kolk (MEKO), and Kelsey Grover (KEGR) arrive at Barnegat Light State Park to check in on the Tace-ters Family.
michelle-stantial-acts-like-plover
Awkward Chick. Michelle Stantial goes rogue while going over the mission with the all-stars. Samoa, Tagalong, Do-Si-Do, and Thin Mint of the Brood That Didn’t Die are now a few weeks old. They are no longer fluffy little itty-bitties anymore. They are now gangly, awkward teenage PIPL, so Michelle demonstrates what to expect. That looks pretty accurate. And goofy.
piping-plover-almost-fly
Despite all the prep, there’s a little glitch. These awkward, little, pre-teen babies have gone so completely and totally rogue, they are spread all over the park. Tagalong is the first to be found, so she waits in the baby bag while the rest are gathered. Little show off… showing off just how big and strong those tiny wings are getting.
scientists-running
We get to see scientists run, always a treat, as Michelle and RELI work to gather some more itty bitties.
meghan-kolk
Lucky Meghan Kolk from the New Jersey ENSP. In the confusion of gathering the chicks, she gets the lucky job of holding one to keep it safe.
kyle-dudgeon
Don’t let his tall, slender physique or long-hair-don’t-care fool you. Intern Kyle Dudgeon is no awkward chick. He is a phenomenal photographer from Surf City, and a budding wildlife scientist. He’s so good I’m not even going to mention his kyledudgeonphotgraphy.com web site to you because I’m so jelly of his pictures. Kyle probably took the whole internship just for this one moment: to hold an adorable itty bitty in the confusion. Now the poor guy has to hike hundreds of miles in the blazing sun, doing the difficult, and often tedious work of saving our endangered species for the rest of the summer.
rebecca-linhart
RELI is back with the last chick so it’s time to get down to the business of weighing and measuring the babies to see how they are doing and learn more about Barnegat Light as a habitat. It never gets old as RELI’s smile demonstrates.
RELI-AND-MEKO
MEKO gets a chance to help RELI measure Do-Si-Do’s tiny wings. But it sure looks to me like she is taking the opportunity to do what all of us want to do: pet little Do-Si-Do.
little-duckling
Awkward Little Duckling.
awkward-baby
Stantial measures Samoa while Thin Mint waits defiantly in the Million Dollar Baby Bag.
michelle-stantial-banding
Awkward.
teenage-piping-plover
It’s hard to believe just a few weeks ago you lay around in the Baby Bag like little turds. Now you’re doing a classic cheerleader’s pyramid. Summer sure does go by too quickly.
reli-with-gear
Samoa’s radio transmitter has fallen off, so it’s time to go find it.
tracking-piping-plover
It’s always awkward to walk around the beach in shoes, with a big ‘ol antenna, in 15 MPH south winds.
reverse-face-to-face
Reverse Face To Face
barnegat-light-piping-plover
Sweet Release. Barnegat Light’s truest treasures are sent back into the park to live among us.

The only thing awkward about preparing this post was trying to bury the joy of it. It is almost embarrassing how full of smiles and laughs some of the photos were. They are now hidden in the Readings From The Northside archive forever. Doing science with a tragically endangered species like the Piping Plover is supposed to be a dour affair. Even if you’re loving the work, it might be in poor taste to let anyone see you smile. And this was an especially tough mission. The Tace-ters brood is getting so big, so strong, and so rogue. It took a lot of coordination, communication, and focus to get it done.

So I tried my hardest, picking only the most serious photos, but I don’t think it really worked. Because the truth is, in the end, the whole reason for taking these risks and doing all this hard work is because the PIPL are so adorable, hilarious, magnificent, and wonderful. They go hand in hand with the Jersey Shore. They were born of it. All of the magic of summer down the shore is contained in the life of every single itty bitty. Even our future is packaged up in their. So even the scientists, with all of their training, and all of their experience, and with the gravity of the work, aren’t immune to it. And besides, a smile always trumps a frown in terms of the heart of what is happening here, and as the proper antidote to the crappy reality they face and that the scientists have to look at under the microscope everyday.

It’s a true bummer that we have created a world where being happy and full of love is the awkward path, while fear, silence, and coldness is the safe route. I suppose we owe Michelle, Rebecca, Kyle, Meghan, and Kelsey a huge thank you: not only for working so hard to protect our very last little bit of wild beach from being snuffed out, but for sharing their smiles, and laughter, and reminding us all what it is really all about in the end.

We can attempt to save the Piping Plover out of guilt, or fear, or because someone tells us we have to. But that’s just so awkward and uncomfortable. By my reckoning it is way, way easier and more fun to do it for the simple reason that they are just so adorably awesome. Especially when they start getting all awkward and gangly.