It was early March when the hubbub erupted.
Someone reported online that T2 had just been seen at Barnegat Light State Park. Some people were thrilled. Others were confused.
For T2 the Oystercatcher had always been very consistent regarding the date he would return home to LBI each spring after his long winter vacations in Florida. It was usually the last, not the first, week of March we’d see our old friend again. We waited all winter for him to come home. His arrival told us that summer was just around the corner.
Some speculated that perhaps T2 was just so excited after raising his first known brood in 2017 that he had simply decided to get an early start on the new season.
But soon several folks in Florida began reporting seeing T2, in realtime, in Cedar Key: his wintering grounds. Pics appeared on Instagram. Someone emailed a short, date-stamped video clip of him loafing in Florida to prove it. Clearly the early Barnegat Light sighting was a mistake. T2 would instead be home shortly… right on schedule.
What’s notable about this is not the fact that someone misreported seeing him. It’s that anybody cared at all; and cared enough to correct the record. That’s just how special of a bird T2 was.
Around the traditional time of T2’s grueling spring migratory flight from Florida to New Jersey, much of the East coast was struck by a powerful Nor’easter. Many were worried about our poor beach nesting birds getting grounded unexpectedly during their difficult journeys back home. And we worried about T2. But not really. Ten years at Barnegat Light State Park. Dozens of failed nests. And last year, finally, success. No little nor’easter was gonna’ stop T2.
As March came and went, and April arrived, folks started looking for T2’s arrival daily. Some were hoping to catch the exact moment he touched down. It was right around this time that they found it. The fresh, soft carcass of a dead Oystercatcher, just off the jetty. As word spread, everyone had the same question: was it banded? Was it T2?
We all breathed a collective sigh of relief when it was confirmed the dead Oystercatcher was unbanded. But still, it was a gruesome sight and a fearful reminder. The feral cat colony located right on T2’s nesting grounds appeared the largest it has ever been this spring. Cat tracks were being found further out the beach than ever before. Folks were starting to leave cat food out on the beach, presumably to feed the gulls. Barnegat Light has always been a death trap, but usually only eggs and babies die. The adults always live to fight another day.
If you’ve made it this far, you are probably as devastated as I am. I don’t know what to tell you. I’ve certainly put off writing this post as long as possible. Because if T2 taught us anything, it is to never give up hope. T2 certainly could be alive somewhere, having decided that fatherhood was not all it was hyped up to be. I’d prefer to believe he is on a soft, warm, private beach somewhere south, enjoying his retirement with his love, Linda Hamilton.
So was T2 done in by the storm? Eaten by a cat? We just don’t know. All we do know is that he lived a long, good life, despite the myriad difficulties he faced. He was a good bird. An amazing Islander. An outstanding ambassador for his species.
Perhaps it was just his time.
T2 is certainly LBI’s most famous bird. Who knows? He is probably the most famous Oystercatcher of all time. He is certainly synonymous with Barnegat Light State Park. Very few photographers escaped the park without a picture of our beloved T2. T2 is a legend.
He made us smile. He made us laugh. He made us cry. His was a true underdog story. We loved it. We cheered him on. And we shook our heads, sometimes shed a tear, at his many disappointments.
He was clearly a very, very special animal. A true ambassador for his species, and really, for all beach nesting birds. It was that damn band. “T2”. It’s kind of funny how scientists and conservationists sometimes frown upon naming and anthropomorphizing animals… yet T2 showed us the value of a great name, and some good branding. Without that band, and that name, he would have been just another annoying, faceless animal who got in the way of our recreations. But “T2”? That’s cool. That’s a story. That’s something even the most disinterested person can hang his or her hat on. It was a direct link to his incredible, and very real, personality, and to the lovable, whimsical nature of the American Oystercatcher.
And so T2 became beloved. T2 became famous. I know for certain that I warmed more hearts and won more folks over to the plight of the beach nesting birds by sharing T2’s incredible story with folks out on the beach.
As noted recently in the Reading Remember Me:
According to the (outstanding) movie Coco, there is a time and a place between when we die here on Earth and when we completely vanish into the unknown. This place is created and sustained by our memories of the dead. As long as someone continues to tell our stories and put up our photos, we will continue to live in spirit and keep a connection to our family in this world. You don’t need to take it literally… but clearly, it’s true.
A funny thing about T2… I’ve noticed over the years that when you discuss him online, people are always eager to share their T2 stories… sometimes to one up you… to let you know clearly that they knew T2 better. There is something really, really sweet about that.
If anyone out there has a T2 story, or photo, please do share it in the comments.
For while I pray T2 turns up somewhere…
… he will always live here as long as we continue to share his incredible story.
Editors Note: I can’t help but think right now of all the great people who shared their love of T2 with me, and taught me just how special he was. Todd Pover, of course. Allison Anholt, who always wanted to share his stories, and travelled all the way up here, going way out of her way, to band his only babies. Nicole Kirkos, who diligently checked his nests that last season when everyone else was sure he would fail again, and who was the first to hear the sweet peeps coming from his eggs. Nicole called it, for sure. I was stunned. I didn’t want to believe her because I wanted to believe her so badly. And Karen Leu: I’ll never forget when you had the unfortunate task of pulling his dead eggs which he had finally incubated all the way to hatch. My heart was more broken for you than for poor T2 & Linda.
Rest in peace T2. We’ll keep telling your story.