Somehow, We Just Knew It Was Junior

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Junior in his little basket, on his way to be delivered to his new forever foster home at Sedge a few weeks ago.

WE GOT THREE!!! AND I CAN TELL WHICH ONE IS JUNIOR!!!111!!!!!

As I screamed it from the top of the Tower to the group on the ground below, I was somewhat aware that I was yelling much more loudly than I needed to be yelling, like a toddler describing its Birthday presents to the roomful of adults right there in the room watching them being opened, just feet away.

But I didn’t care. I was just so excited. And relieved.

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The Gift. Junior a few weeks later, ready for banding, and thriving. Don’t you recognize him?

I have no idea why they sent me up the Tower anyway. I’m the only one who is scared of heights. And birds. And I’m the one who is always a little too paranoid and nervous when we approach a nest for banding. Because I’ve been deeply scarred forever by those unfortunate days when celebration turns to tragedy in a single instant: the moment when you peek into the nest box and discover that the babies you were so excited to see are actually all dead.

It hurts the most when you never even considered the possibility.

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“Yep, that’s Junior alright!”

And today I was especially anxious. For several reasons.

For one, last year we had been shocked by tragedy at this very same nest at Sedge on this very same day: banding day. Last year the nest full of babies we had seen just a few weeks earlier had vanished without a trace.

What’s worse, today we were joined by a film crew from Jon Coen’s outstanding Just Beneath The Surface who was working on a piece about local birds of prey. What if something were to go horribly wrong? What if their show was about to suddenly turn from a bit of celebration about how amazing our local wildlife is to one about how tragic its failures are?

And as I was climbing the Tower just moments earlier, I had heard that one sound you never want to hear at a Falcon nest: silence.

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The Legendary Jon Coen: “Now how do you know for sure this one is Junior?” I tell Jon to smell him. Not because that will prove he is Junior. But because Falcon chicks smell like puppies.

But most of all I was nervous because the last time we’d been at this Tower, we’d left a little something behind: Little Junior; the sickly little Falcon who had experienced a miraculous recovery under the expert care of Dr. Erica Miller and the Tri-State Bird Rescue, so now needed a foster home, and Sedge was a good fit. You can see the whole adventure on the Reading Junior Goes To Sedge.

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“Home…..” Junior’s Forever Home, the Sedge Tower of Doom, reflected in his eye.

I was only a little nervous that this had been a failed fostering. Kathy, Ben, and Erica are true masters in the fine art of fostering orphaned Falcons. While most people  (intelligently) assume that the parents will reject the strange, foreign baby which has been suddenly added to its nest, the reality is that it’s not clear if the parents even realize they just got a bonus baby. You’d think they might at least stare at it. Or poke it. But nope. They usually just start feeding it or brooding it without any sign they spot the difference in the nest.

Kathy’s big joke about fostering success is, “Thankfully, Peregrine Falcon can’t count.”

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Junior Growing Up Fast
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Showing off doing “The Exorcist”. A freaky, 180 degree head turn.

No, I was pretty sure the fostering had gone just fine. It was actually the lack of nail polish that made me most nervous of all. What if we couldn’t tell which baby was Junior?

For we had forgotten to paint one of Junior’s talons with a spot of nail polish so we could tell which one he was when we returned to band. Would we be able to tell?

As I peeked into the nest box, every single one of those fears was was driven out by the rush of joy and adrenaline.

And so I lept to my feet, and screamed, probably a little too loudly,

WE GOT THREE!!! AND I CAN TELL WHICH ONE IS JUNIOR!!!111!!!!!

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Self Portrait In Junior.

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Editor’s Note: It was my dad who taught me to love the beach. He was the first person to tell me that Peregrine Falcon were being seen around the Island. It was my dad who first bought me a camera I didn’t really want, and encouraged me to take pictures I didn’t know how to take, and to write more on a blog I didn’t know how to write. And it was my dad who used to call me “Junior.”

“Nice lecture, Junior.”

This is the brief message he’d always leave when he’d receive a Reading From The Northside in his email that was a little too heavy-handed, or a little too preachy. He liked the light stuff. The happy stuff. So do I. Don’t we all? Yet over the years as my personal journey on the beach has taken me from sharing water temperatures to documenting the delicate fostering of endangered baby Falcons, I’ve stumbled upon things that need to be said. Sometimes they are difficult things I don’t want to say, and complicated things I don’t really know how to talk about. So I just stumble through, one Reading after the next, often not getting it right, but trying to express something just on the tip of my tongue.

I just got a sneak peak at the new episode of Jon Coen’s Just Beneath Surface which premieres this Tuesday. In it is a bit about Ocean County’s birds of prey, featuring the fine work of Ben Wurst and Kathy Clark, Readings From The Northside, and documenting this banding at Sedge.

Many of you know Jon from his Liquid Lines surfing column in the Sandpaper. I know many old people who have never surfed who read it every week simply because Jon is such a gifted writer. I have always had a ton of respect for him.

But his bit about our local wildlife made me weep. Like any great storyteller, Jon managed to cut through all the clutter and get to the heart of things. In a single bit, Jon managed to perfectly articulate everything I’m always trying to say about our local wildlife and the good people who care for it, and why it all matters. I mean, I actually said a lot of it, as the source material is interviews with Kathy, Ben, and me, and this visit to Sedge… but Jon put it altogether with so much heart, with such beautiful video, I’m really encouraged it will connect with people who don’t normally think too much about our local, endangered animals in a way I have never had the skill to do.

The premiere is this Tuesday at the Terrace Tavern. I highly recommend you see this show.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the last Reading From The Northside. Jon so perfectly sums up everything I’m always trying to say, I feel like I can finally shut up.

And since we all know that’s not going to happen, maybe I can at least finally stop lecturing and get back to posting the water temps.

But then again, without a nice lecture every once in a while, my dad might not recognize me as his “Junior.”

We hope to see on 6/26 at The Terrace Tavern. 8PM.

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