T5: The Choices We Make And All The Little Things We Leave Behind

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The Sunrise Funeral Pyre. T5 emerging from his egg to find only a very lonely world.
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Born This Way. It wasn’t long after T3 & T4 were born when they would figure out the beach is an amazing place, and that American Oystercatchers were born to tear it up, and so they promptly went completely and totally rogue while the rest of us waited for their third sibling, T5, to finish hatching.
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Places To Hide. Although T5 was still hatching out of his little egg back at the nest, T2 & Linda Hamilton were forced to start moving down the beach to protect their new babies from the dangers they were still totally oblivious to. At every chance they found, one of the adults would run back to the nest to incubate and watch over T5.
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Family Meal. And unlike Piping Plover, AMOY are not fully precocial. T2 & Linda needed to start feeding them right away. This is the first family meal. They are barely even feeding them at this point. They are simply trying to show them there even is such a thing as om nom. And the babies are basically just trying to stay standing up.

It was a slow process of letting go. At first, T2 & Linda Hamilton would run back to check on T5 at every available opportunity, and incubate the egg as long as the other two chicks were not in any obvious danger. Yet the dangers were continually increasing right along with the need to feed the two, so soon they were running back with only enough time to take a peek at how T5 was coming along, perhaps to offer some small chirps of urgent encouragement. By nightfall this was reduced to only returning to the nest when imminent and obvious dangers, like perched crows near the egg, were in play.

Soon the pressing responsibilities of family life would become just too overwhelming for the new parents. By the next morning, T5 seemed to have been abandoned. While he appeared lifeless at sunrise, he would amazingly spring to life as the sun rose and the beach warmed, his tiny head peeking out through the little pip in his egg, making quiet, plaintive chirps more and more frequently as the morning went on. Later, as clouds cooled the beach and the winds went dead, T5’s chirps transformed into desperate screams. Sitting with the egg I noticed that the sounds of children frolicking along the jetty, or boats passing through the Inlet, would trigger these calls.

But no one ever came back for T5.

I’m sure the whole morning there were urgent discussions about what might be done for T5… what could be done… what should be done. As I sat watching T5 struggle to make it, my phone was buzzing with news and stories about possible rehabilitators, stories of successful artificial hatches, and links to experiments in captive rearing. I watched the egg, read these text messages, and searched the PetSmart web site for heat lamps & incubation tools, and called Ship Bottom Shellfish to make sure they had Oysters in stock.  The instinct to pocket that egg and bring it home to try anything I could think of was almost impossible to fight. I know a lot of people felt the same way.

By the next morning, T5, and all of his struggles, had vanished. And 1/4 mile down the beach T2 & Linda Hamilton, along with their two beautiful babies who had been ten years in the making, were thriving.

A couple of things struck me watching all of this.

First, it made me think about our lives and all of the choices we are forced to make to keep our lives in balance, and to keep swimming forward with some modicum of control. Some are tiny, some are massive. Yet all choices involve also not-choosing something else. Tiny embryonic possibilities, eggs full of potential, all of those possibilities and what-ifs, all left behind. We all struggle with those choices at times, the ones so difficult because the value of what we have to not-choose is so undeniable. We’ll never know what T2 & Linda Hamilton thought or felt, if anything, about the need to leave poor T5 behind in order to keep T3 & T4 alive. But we know it was a slow process of continual effort as T2 and Linda Hamilton struggled to make it work against the tide. We know it was not easy for them, if only in the simplest terms.

Second, the event made it so clear what the role of our wildlife managers & scientists really is on our beaches. It’s kind of funny that we, members of the beach going public, might be equally quick to effortlessly proclaim that “they shouldn’t be messing with our animals” as we might be to think they should urgently do something for poor T5 as he lay there screaming in hopelessness. Yet I have come to learn that our Wildlife Guards are not the meddlers I once thought them to be, but in reality they are courageous and intelligent folks with a clear mission.

I don’t speak for anyone when I say this, but I really got the sense here of the key difference between intervening to help an endangered species like the Piping Plover, where they help to correct the gross imbalance that we have forced on the natural world, and intervening to help the unbelievably sad, yet totally natural and real, abandoned T5. We didn’t cause that. It was baked right into nature. We suffer the same difficulties as humans, making tough choices and leaving so much behind every time the reality of a limited world confronts the unlimited possibilities of our hopes, our dreams, and our imaginations. As much as so many people wanted to do something, anything, there was nothing that could be done for T5, by the people with the resources and skills to do so, which would not have been a perversion of the natural order of things, or in conflict with the real mission of restoring some natural balance to the beach.

I might not be stating that quite right… but the gist is: Sometimes doing nothing is the wisest option, and requires the most courage.

2 Days Later…. T5 CSI

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New Jersey’s Amazing Allison Anholt visits Barnegat Light to meet T2’s miracle babies. Here she points out where she thinks another rogue pair of AMOY who have been hanging around Barnegat Light will start scraping and attempt to form a nest. +10 points for Allison. Three days later I would see the pair scraping for the first time, about 5 feet from where Allison is pointing. Damn she’s good.

I don’t think anyone in New Jersey was as excited about T2 & Linda Hamilton’s miracle babies as Allison Anholt. Allison is our Queen of AMOY, and my go-to person whenever I have obscure questions, or want to hear funny AMOY stories about something really obnoxious they did. Allison has never made any secret of the fact that she favors the hilarious AMOY over all of the other beach nesting birds found around here. She most certainly taught me to love them. So it was a thrill to see her when she travelled all the way to LBI to see the tiny miracle taking place at Barnegat Light.

But of course, in classic AMOY style, T2 & Linda worked extra hard to hide their babies from the one person who wanted to see them the most, and would probably do the most to help them in case of a problem. That’s just how AMOY roll. After playing a very frustrating game of Hide The Button (to see how annoying AMOY can be, check the 2014 Reading “Winning Hide The Button: Oystercatcher Rules“) Allison set her sights on doing a little CSI on the T5 situation.

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Allison found T5’s depredated eggshell in no time. I’m not sure in this photo if she is actually inspecting the remains of T5’s egg, or admiring that engagement ring on her finger. Hearty Congratulations from Readings From The Northside, Allison. I hope your very, very lucky beau likes AMOY.
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Allison Anholt shows us two important details: first, that the white membrane is still attached to the eggshell, which suggests that the egg never hatched, but was instead om nom’d. Secondly, she points out the sharp, defined cuts in the eggshell which suggest Crow.
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Crows are also implicated by the somewhat faded, but still readable crow tracks all around the original nest bowl.
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Crows are further implicated by all of the Crows hanging nearby eating our trash while they wait for T2 & Linda to lay another nest.

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I heard you T5. I heard you. I might not ever really know or understand what your purpose was on the beach, if any at all. But you surely remind us that we are all making uncertain choices all the time, in a mysterious world we can barely comprehend. Like your parents, we’re all just doing the best we can as often as we can, which is all we can do, and so, is surely enough.