To say that Barnegat Light has been turned completely upside down this summer would be the understatement of the season. Tufters has completely failed and disappeared. Tacey has attempted a disastrous affair with a foolish young rogue at Holgate. T2 finally succeeded after ten years of failure. And Smalls actually found a lady. And it is not even July yet.
Even casual readers are probably familiar with Tufters, Tacey, and T2. You might have missed Smalls though as I only mentioned him once, late last Spring, when my hand was forced, in the Reading Smalls Talk. Yet since it now appears we are witnessing some great moment of destiny unfolding before our very eyes, we better get caught up on his backstory, real quick.
The secret of Smalls’ backstory is buried deep in the heart of the 2015 four-part Reading, “The True Tale Of Ginken.” I’ll attempt to summarize:
In 2015 Tufters and Tacey performed a very rare miracle renest (they laid two nests in one season) at Barnegat Light State Park. Meanwhile, way down in Ocean City, another well know Piping Plover named Houdini also performed a miracle renest that summer. This set up an epic rivalry between House Tufters & House Houdini regarding who was the greatest Piping Plover family in NJ. In what was either an amazing coincidence, or true destiny, “Blynken” (the male offspring from Tufters’ miracle renest) and “Ginger” (the female offspring from Houdini’s miracle renest) were caught frolicking together at Holgate that fall. There was a real Capulet and Montague thing going on. Oh yeah, that’s right. Things are getting real up on the Readings, bringing in the William Shakespeare.
Well, we now know those events were no coincidence, and in fact, they were only the tip of the iceberg; the prequel to an epic, and unfinished, tale of family rivalry which is unfolding right in front of our faces at the State Park.
For while my camera and our attention was focused on the renests of Houdini and Tufters, it was one of the offspring from Houdini’s first nest that season who would become the major friendly-rival at best, and total antagonist at worst, in this continuing tale. They barely got a mention in the four parts. Yet before Houdini renested and fledged Ginger Spice, his first nest had fledged two: Smalls & Squints.
When Smalls first arrived at Barnegat Light in 2016, you could feel the cold winds of destiny which had blown him there. It certainly gave me an uneasy feeling. I shuddered at the news. The hairs on the back of my neck stood straight up. So I was quickly relieved to observe that Smalls was a complete and total idiot. An annoying and aggressive little bird, Smalls flew all over the park, peeping his little head off, digging scrapes everywhere and crying out, unsuccessfully, for attention. Every young female he managed to attract was gone in less that 24 hours. Rather than some epic character in a major multi-generational rivalry, Smalls was just a minor annoyance to Tufters & Tacey as they raised The Brood That Didn’t Die in 2016. A funny, little, coincidence.
The only little a bit of drama came at the end of the season when some scientists, who shall remain nameless, alleged that Tacey might be checking out some of Smalls’ scrapes and some kind of affair might be developing. Of course, nothing became of it.
But that was 2016. Things are very different now.
To suggest that Smalls has brought some kind of Dark Magic to the State Park might sound like fantastical make believe. Until you read his backstory. His father’s name was Houdini after all. Science provides no clear answers as no one has yet, to my knowledge, done a serious study of Bird Alchemy, and of inter-species transmutations and such. Yet the scene grows stranger everyday as we watch life being drained from the reliable Taceter’s family, while the ever-hopeless T2 brings it forth in miraculous fashion.
And somehow, at the center of the chaos, appears to be emerging the tiny, little, annoying bird from House Houdini: Smalls. The great Banner of House Houdini is clearly implanted at the Lighthouse while that of House Tufters, at least for now, has fallen. Just as the True Tale Of Ginken feared might happen one day.
The one thing that science does tell us though, is who these birds are, and they are in fact very real characters. Perhaps the most amazing part of this whole tale is the fact that it is true. And we know it to be true because of Michelle Stantial’s epic Piping Plover banding project.
Ever since we first figured out that Mac Daddy, North Beach’s Oldest & Most Experienced Herring Gull, was in fact the same Seagull and not a figment of our imagination, Readings From The Northside has been hell-bent on exploring the topic in detail. Years ago, I would have struggled to make this story up. Today, I struggle just to get all the very true facts down.
Where we once struggled together just to prove that some bird on the beach was in fact the same bird we saw yesterday on the beach, we are now exploring in detail the multi-generational, and multi-species, interactions of birds from across the state of New Jersey, and beyond. It’s silly, and it’s astounding.
Once again, I feel the cold winds of destiny, as the hairs on the back of my neck prickle.