Let’s take advantage of the fact that most of you read at least the first sentence of these Readings, and state clearly:
I never “slut shamed” Tacey in the earlier Reading “Tufters All Alone Because Tacey Is A Tramp?” In fact, I did quite the opposite. Many have accused me of slut-shaming her in the wake of that post, in their well intentioned but misguided attempts to expose a dark agenda and subtle gender bias in RFTNS. Instead, if you’ll allow me to mansplain it, they have simply exposed the fact that they don’t read very carefully (which is great because I’m hoping no one reads this one too carefully and pieces together just how wrong I was).
The point of “Tufters All Alone Because Tacey Is A Tramp?” was that it would be wrong to call Tacey a loose woman and emblazon her chest with a Scarlet Letter, and more accurate to call Tacey a tramp in the traditional sense of the word:
tramp: a person who travels about on foot, esp. one doing odd jobs or begging for a living; hobo; vagrant
That’s how all Piping Plover live as they migrate down the coast. Tiny, little, orange foot to mouth. And that is exactly what Tacey was doing.
And as it turns out, RFTNS has been proven 100% correct that Tacey was on her way back to the Bahamas and would hopefully have a change of heart along the way and come back to Barnegat Light to be reunited with her one-and-only Tufters.
I’m therefore understandably pleased to report that, after a few weeks at Holgate, Tacey has just returned to Barnegt Light State Park in search of her Lord of Light, Tufters… just as we all knew she would.
There were just a couple of small glitches.
The one small glitch in our bold, clearly stated call that Tacey would never renest with another male was that during Tacey’s short stay at Holgate, she managed to get impregnated by the foolish, young Pepper Jack, and laid three, beautiful eggs there. (Editor’s Note: Allegedly. I never saw these eggs with my own eyes and no one actually saw her specifically lay them. All we know is that a bird who, alleged to be Tacey, was seen in the general area where 3 eggs were also observed, and that occasionally, this bird who happened to have colored ring bands that appeared similar to Tacey’s, was seen incubating those eggs.) This alleged nest then promptly failed and, a few days later, Tacey was seen back at Barnegat Light desperately searching for Tuffies.
And the only little glitch for Tacey? Tufters has turtley disappeared. He gone.
After the Taceters’ epic tragedy, losing all four of their beautiful babies to crows on the very first day, the couple was spotted preparing for a renest, but then suddenly and mysteriously vanished. Yet this is the heart of the nesting season and lots of folks are out along the coast actively monitoring and searching for any-and-all Piping Plovers. They shouldn’t be hard to find.
Tacey was spotted within two days.
But Tufters still has not been seen. By anybody.
Time For An Alfventure. The CWFNJ promptly dispatches the legendary Alf Breed & Emily Heiser to launch a desperate search of Barnegat Bay for Tufters, most likely to attempt to talk him down and convince him to come back to work things out with Tacey.
We are at a rare moment in history, being a few years into Michelle Stantial’s epic PIPL banding studies in New Jersey. We now have scores of banded, well known local birds like Tufters & Tacey so we have the unique opportunity to really understand what they do and how they behave in these types of situations. Indeed, I barely have to make any of this up anymore. Barely.
But like most answers, the insights we gain are ultimately just leading to more questions. Why did they split? Why did Tufters abandon his territory? Did Tacey leave Tufters because of the tragedy? Why Pepper Jack???? Everyone knows he is an idiot.
Did she lay those eggs out of duty to the species, putting the fate of the Piping Plover over her own love for Tufters? Love, after all, is a luxury. There are many things we take for granted as a species whose main threat is overpopulation of our habitat, not extinction.
And most importantly of all, where the heck are you Tufters?!
Luckily, I had the chance to speak with the great Dr. Jonathan Cohen from SUNY-ESF’s Cohen Lab, one of the greatest minds in Plovers today.
I immediately put to him the question on everyone’s mind: What do you think happened to Tufters?
It is very rare for a well bonded pair to experience a mid-season divorce, except in cases of a mortality event.
~ Dr. Jonathan Cohen, PhD.
Let’s not sugarcoat it. We’ll paraphrase it instead:
This is not what I wanted to hear from the Golden Boy of Piping Plover science. Could it be? Could Tufters have perished? It would be an extraordinary and seemingly unlikely coincidence if Tufters somehow suddenly died just a few days after all his babies were eaten by crows. Our hopes can be further encouraged by knowing that here in New Jersey there actually have been multiple cases of mid-season divorce among well bonded pairs of Plovers. Dr. Cohen was referring more generally to PIPL populations north of here, in New England. Perhaps they have stronger family values in New England. Perhaps. And hopes can be even furthered encouraged by remembering that Tufters has never been found on his secretive wintering grounds where he spends his “Tufters’ Time,” even when an enormously generous bounty was placed on his head.
Whatever the case, only finding, or never-again-finding Tufters will answer this question with any certainty. So let’s focus on what we know.
We know Tufters is the Lord of The Lighthouse. We know he is incredibly site fidelic, as most Piping Plover are, and returns to the Lighthouse every year to nest. If no one finds him before next season and he fails to show up at Barnegat Lighthouse next spring, then we can begin to worry and mourn and wail and gnash our teeth.
But until then, we should talk about something else going on at the Park. Something much larger. Something which might explain why this is all happening, regardless of outcome.
We need to talk about a small problem at Barnegat Light State Park. Or should we say, the Smalls problem.
As it turns out, this may be less a story where science provides the answers, and more of one where prescience does. It appears the True Tale of Ginken is not finished.