An Islander’s Eye For Treasure

It all started with a simple, random comment on this very blog:

Hi, I’m new and I have seen 2 piping plovers now twice recently on the beach in BL. Are we supposed to notify anyone if they are on the regular beach? ~ Ann

First thought? Yes, you are. Always notify Kashi Davis at christina.davis@dep.nj.gov. Second thought? I bet you did! For those of you who’ve been reading along regularly, and have both decent math and good reading comprehension skills, you probably noticed we have an astounding four pairs of PIPL nesting at Barnegat Light this year: Tufters & Tacey, Smalls & Mercedes, Mustache BYLL & Myrtle, and Jack & Dracula. I’m not sure what we did to deserve this. Our beaches are absolutely riddled with goodness this year.

While assuming she simply saw one of our well known locals, I still shot off a quick email to her to see if she had a photo (unlikely), noticed if the bird was banded (very unlikely), and, if so, if she was able to read the colored band combination (so crazy, impossibly unlikely.)

She hit me back with this:

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Spot The PIPL. Do you have Ann’s eye for treasure?

It only took me about 45 minutes to find the lone PIPL in her photo. Once I found it though, a few things jumped out right away. First, that sure is a nice wrack line of washed up eel grass, always loaded with all of the disgusting stuff PIPL love to om nom. This PIPL won’t go to bed hungry tonight.

Next, I noticed what a dark, thick neck band this little rogue is sporting. This is almost certainly a male Piping Plover. He sure is especially handsome.

But most of all it was the background of the photo which caught my attention. Those houses are right on the beach and the Island’s natural curve at Loveladies is clearly visible. That’s extremely far south for Barnegat Light’s Piping Plover to be foraging. While it could just be Mustache BYLL going modestly rogue, the whole scene is a little unusual.

Time to call in the big guns.

I forwarded the report to NJ’s own Mother Of Plovers, Christina “Kashi” Davis. She confirmed that this area is a little far south of where the State traditionally hunts for PIPL on LBI, so she immediately dispatched Nicole Kirkos & Emily Heiser to check it out.

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Steph Curry, looking annoyed in our dunes. “Larry, give it a break.”
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And Larry Byrb, creeping up on her. “But I just lovez you, that’s all.”

Murderball. It did not take Nicole & Emily long to find them. Well, I’ll be… It’s a new pair! In a new location, so far south on the North End of LBI that no one is really actively monitoring the area. The two were clearly in love, with his affections being evidenced “most ardently”, so a nest was imminent if not already hidden precariously on the public beach somewhere.

And best of all, we actually know one of these PIPL. She’s a local! The female is Steph Curry, banded in Holgate back in 2015. Daughter of “Beyonce” & “Jay-Z.” Sibling to Cowboy, Sprinkles, and Kamina. Cowboy would return to Stone Harbor Point where she nested in 2016, but this year she has ditched us for Long Island. Lame. Amazingly, Sprinkles & Kamina nested TOGETHER, as in, with each other (eww) in 2016 at Holgate. This ill-fated taboo nest apparently was not meant to be. Kamina died in the talons of of the legendary Peregrine Falcon, Stripe, shortly after her nest hatched with her brother/husband Sprinkles. Sprinkles made it off the Island alive, but was so shook up from losing his wife/sister, he abandoned his chicks, leaving them to die in the nest bowl. Also lame.

I’m not sure if the best part, or the worst part, of that backstory is that I did not make any of it up.

But back to Steph… As I understand it, Steph was originally named “Stephen Curry” after the basketball star, by a biologist who was firmly convinced that she was a he. What’s especially funny about that is that she is one of the palest, most beautiful, most feminine female Plovers I have ever seen. (For the record, it is almost impossible to tell the difference between boy and girl PIPL babies which is why we have local, breeding pairs in NJ named unfortunately confusing things like “Bob & Stanley.” That’s not a social commentary on gender fluidity. It’s just that gender matters biologically when it comes to breeding!)

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“Who, me?” Marks Of Beauty. Stephen becomes Steph. How distinctly modern. Notice Steph’s pale, silvery color and the delicate, low contrast neck and head band.

And soon after, they would discover this:

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Buried Treasure

No one knows how long the pair had been trying, and failing, to nest out there on the busy beach. This particular nest attempt by Steph & Larry, shown above, had been abandoned and buried by sand. But thanks to Ann’s sharp eye for treasures on the beach, and the quick response of team NJ, protective fencing was put up in the area to give Steph & Larry a fair shot of raising a family on LBI. After all, this is their Island too.

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Larry presents a new, now-protected “scrape” to Steph. What a handsome couple. The differences between male & female PIPL are so apparent in this pair. Notice how especially pale and delicate Steph’s markings and colorings are, and how dark & contrasty Larry is by comparison.
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Lovestruck Larry. “Thankz you, Ann!”

As it turns out, Ann is one of our local legends of beach Treasure Hunting. She achieved some notoriety, and made most of us extremely jelly, when she found an impossibly large and perfectly conditioned Great White Shark Tooth in Loveladies this past winter.

She often makes the long haul from LBT up to Barnegat Light to scour its wide, natural beaches for sea glass. And I’m sure after this experience she’ll be adding Piping Plover to the short list of finds that keep her out on the beach searching for those magical experiences of discovery that the wild beach bestows on us as supreme gifts.

I loved saying it before, and I love even more saying it again: Piping Plover Are The New Sea Glass and Christina “Kashi” Davis is the New Todd Pover. Get out there and find them, and when you find them, report them. It’s fun, it’s thrilling, it’s adorable, and it’s the right thing to do. Piping Plover are the Crown Jewel of cool-things-you-might-find-on-the-beach. Except maybe a perfect Great White Shark’s Tooth. I’m not sure. We’ll have to ask Ann which is cooler.

As New Jersey continues to march down the Road To Recovery of our local animals, and our coast continues to morph and change, the probabilities continually increase that PIPL might attempt to nest on Island beaches they have not nested on in the century since we first showed up here.

Ann was already a well known Island Treasure Hunter. But now she is a Island Wildlife Hero. Thanks Ann. You are clearly the Godmommy of this nest. What could be better?

I’ll tell you precisely what could be better: Godbabies!

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Larry & Steph. Working on Godbabies. Thankful for Ann’s sharp Eye For Treasure, and her love for our wild beach.

We are all thankful Ann. As jealous as we are, we must admit: you clearly deserved to find that Great White Tooth.  May the Island continue to reward your caring with bountiful treasures!