On The Record: Piping Plover Are The New Sea Glass, and Christina “Kashi” Davis is the New Todd Pover.

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Can you find it? It’s the ultimate beach find; far more precious than even orange Sea Glass.

Back in 2016…

Although it was several years ago, I remember it was Kathy Clark who first told me about Christina Davis. I had just discovered that North Beach’s most infamous seagull, Mac Daddy, had babies. Baby Cheezitz (TM). I wanted to know everything about them. Kathy told me,

You need to meet Christina Davis. She is one of NJ’s greatest biologists and knows all about Mac Daddy and the other animals breeding in the marsh islands around Barnegat Bay. You really need to meet her. She’ll change your life.

It would be a few years after that, still never having met her, when I would learn that her friends call her “Kashi.” We can only imagine how much of the stuff she must have om nom’d to earn that one.

In fact, It would not be until Summer 2016 when, surprisingly, a pair of Piping Plover decided to nest at Island Beach State Park for the first time in many, many years when I would finally meet the legend herself.

You see, I had questions. There was a lot of ruckus about a potential, temporary beach closure at IBSP to help the Piping Plover, and petitions were flying around social media attempting to stop it. I get that. Some people value their not-having-to-walk on the beach more than the fate of our local animals. The problem was, the petitions were completely full of absolute nonsense which critically undermined what could have been a somewhat fascinating argument about how people and animals should share the shore. Sure it was pointless, as Piping Plovers are so beat down on the coast, they have both federal and state protection. But still, it is always good to dialogue.

I’m a beach bum with very little useful education under my belt, but even I knew enough basic biology to know that the practical suggestions of the anti-Plover folks, such as moving the nests to another part of the park, were absolute, pure, crazy, yet were being presented by the public to the public as facts and realistic options. Then there was the simply ignorant stuff  like, “I saw fifty Piping Plover on Island Beach last week, what’s the problem?”, or the beyond insane, “those folks are only closing it down so they can have it all to themselves. There is not such thing as a Piping Plover.” As a member of the public, beach-going crowd, I was embarrassed.

So I lobbied The Lord of The Flyway, Todd Pover, the head of NJs’ Beach Nesting Bird program for some Readings-worthy soundbites from the NJ side of the story. He promptly dispatched the legendary Kashi Davis to deal with my nonsense.

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Christina “Kashi” Davis enjoying Island Beach State Park all to herself, in the carefree days of 2016.

I can’t remember exactly, but I’m pretty sure it was my first, official introduction to Christina “Kashi” Davis:

O.K., so, this is strictly off the record, but…

While I’m not sure if that was the precise greeting, what I can tell you is that she proceeded to say “this is off the record” no less than 153 times that morning in the course of our walk & talk. I know this because my little Readings notebook for that morning in July, 2016 has 153 lines scratched out and noted with “OTR.”

It was an enormous honor to meet this legend I’d been waiting so many years to meet, but with nothing on the record, I never did a Reading about it. Buried in the 153, scribbled-out lines in my notebook noted as “Off The Record,” I only had one publishable nugget of wisdom from Kashi Davis.

I really value work/life balance. I’m not one of those crazy biologists who will run all over NJ on a Saturday night to deal with every emergency. You have to draw a line.

~ Christina “Kashi” Davis, 2016

Cut to 2017…

Shoot. I just sat down to dinner. What day is it, Saturday? OK, let me see if I can rustle up a truck and Emily. If we leave now we can make it just before dark and get some fencing up. If you can, please stay and make sure the nest is safe. We’ll be there in an hour. I’ll eat in the car.

~ Christina “Kashi” Davis, 2017

It had been a dreadful day, but the rain finally  stopped, so I had head out to hunt for sea glass. A couple of huge nor’easters this spring had setup some epic shelling and sea glass hunting conditions. On a recent morning I’d counted 15 people out at 5:30 AM, all scouring the wrack line for nuggets, many armed with serious tools like rakes and massive coffee mugs. Too much competition. And the rake wielders had a serious advantage in the event of a “who see’d that piece of sea glass first” dispute. So I reserved my hunts for those undesirable times when I knew I’d have the wrack all to my little, selfish, self.

It was dark & dreary & not a soul was on the beach, but when I saw the tiny glimmer of saturation I could barely believe my luck. It was a tiny speck of bright orange. Could it be? Orange: one of the rarest of  sea glass colors of all. I only have one or two specimens in my collection.

I walked slowly, my eyes never leaving the tiny orange glow hidden the wrack up ahead.

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“Don’t pik me up. Iz not see glazz.” Can you spot the nugget?

It was a Piping Plover hiding in the wrack, perfectly camouflaged save for his colorful little beak, which is also great beach camouflage save for this dreary evening when it was catching the light just right.

And that’s when I had one of those magic moments we live for at the beach. Like a Humpback Whale suddenly breaching out of a calm sea, only much, much littler and less smelly:

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I had spooked the PIPL out of his spot, so I greedily walked over to see if he had been sitting on any nuggets of sea glass. It turns out he was sitting on something far more precious. A tiny little egg, laid right in the middle of a normally busy public beach.

Now this is the part of the story where we would immediately and urgently notify Todd Pover & The NJ Beach Nesting Crew. This nest would not last a day without a little protection. But not this year. This year is a whole new story.

At the time when Todd Pover sent Kashi to deal with me back at IBSP in 2016, I wasn’t sure if  it was the greatest honor, or the biggest blow off, I’d ever received. It would not be until much later in the fall when I’d learn the truth. Todd Pover was in the process of stepping down from his role with the State that Summer, and was actively training his replacement. And those duties apparently include dealing with inquisitive beach bums.

That’s right. There is a new Sheriff In Town, and her name is Christina Davis. Her friends call her Kashi. And apparently, she should probably start valuing work/life imbalance, because clearly, that’s what she’s in for this season!

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Kashi Davis & her #2 (hee hee, #2) Emily Heiser arrive just before dark on a Saturday night to protect the nest with symbolic fencing.
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To do the glamorous and dignified work of the two highest ranking Piping Plover officials in the State. (I know it doesn’t look like it, but I am probably helping somehow)

And so it is that the torch has been passed. After years of excellent leadership, immense commitment, and that friendly, local, folksy style of interacting with people on the beach that often ended in high-fives and hugs even when confronting the angriest of illegal dog walkers, Todd Pover is moving on to fulfill greater duties as The Lord Of The Flyway.

And he could not have left us in better hands. While I can’t share the details, because they were strictly off the record, I can tell you I learned more on a single walk with Kashi Davis at IBSP in 2016 than I could have hoped to learn in a lifetime. Smart, funny, tenacious, and totally reasonable, Kashi Davis brings 100% Jersey spunk to advocating for our wild coast and most adorable local animals. Friends of natural splendor on the beach have hit the jackpot. Enemies of nature have a serious Rottweiler to contend with.

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Christina Davis shares her smarts and good humor with anyone who loves the beach as much as she does @ISBP in 2016.
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Kashi Davis. “Em, does he seriously take pictures the entire time we are erecting the symbolic fencing?!?”
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Emily Heiser. “Don’t worry Kash, just smile like this and he’ll get tired soon. If he tried to help he’d get a callous and then you’d have to hear about it for the rest of the summer.”
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And just as the sun sets that Saturday night, Kashi takes a moment to reflect on work/life balance. I think this might be the moment she discovers that LBI truly is her favorite habitat on the coast. We’ll just have to assume that. Even if she told us so, she’d be smart enough to preface it with “this is off the record.”

The first thing I ever learned about Christina Davis was that she was one of the greats, and the second was that her friends call her “Kashi.”

So we’ll call her Kashi because LBI, both our people & plovers, count her as a friend. We share too many interests not to be friends… we all like local stuff, we like being nice to animals, we love the nature part of the beach, we like to be helpful, we’re proud to be underdogs, we love a good argument, a good laugh, and some old fashioned, no nonsense, common sense.

And friends share email addresses, so here is hers:

christina.davis@dep.nj.gov

Barely use, don’t abuse it. But Kashi does value engaged beachgoers, and can surely use our help. Todd Pover’s excellent management over the years has essentially lobbed a very heavy ball to Kashi which she now has the opportunity to spike. Our Piping Plovers are on the road to recovery, and they are spreading out. We even had a first attempted nest in Long Beach Township in years this spring.

Hunting for Piping Plovers is as fun as hunting for sea glass, and best of all you can do them both at the same time. Once you’ve learned to identify them, you’ll be set up for the beach thrill of a lifetime. Finding a Piping Plover on LBI is like finding blue sea glass. Finding a nesting pair, like finding orange sea glass.

If you make a find, or ever see problems with actively nesting birds, symbolic fencing, or anything else, by all means, report it, and throw her new life into even greater imbalance.

Piping Plover are the new Sea Glass, and Kashi Davis is the new Todd Pover. It’s official, and on the record.

Godspeed Todd Pover. Welcome aboard Kashi!

Bonus:

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Oooo. Black over yellow bands… good, good.. let’s see the other side…

And guess who the little sea glass PIPL featured in the above Reading turned out to be?

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Green over Yellow!!!11!! THAT’S JACK!

It appears Jack’s Back, and he Do’d it Again!