Life & Death Beyond The Island

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Pete & Phoebe’s Babies: Mr. Hand, Spicoli, and Damone

Long Beach Island’s Piping Plover are probably its most important and most valuable export. Each season our Island, a critical habitat for these endangered beauties, produces what it can to help keep the population of just 1,700 breeding pairs worldwide from falling even further. Barnegat Light’s Pete McLain and Phoebe Cates certainly did their part this summer by giving birth to the adorable Damone, Spicoli and Mr. Hand. Damone, sadly, didn’t make it. But Mr. Hand and Spicoli made it to their fledge dates and left the Island this August to head off into the great unknown.

Unknown, that is, until last week when Mr. Hand was spotted on Ocracoke Island in North Carolina!

Normally that news would be cause for raucous celebration; but Hurricane Florence puts a big question mark over just how much we should be cheering about this development.

Having only been flying a few weeks, LBI’s Piping Plover take off and head to the Bahamas for the winter before returning to make babies in the spring. While some birds are spotted along the coast during the early fall, recent research suggests that some of these babies make a b-line for the Bahamas, flying straight over the open ocean for several days from places like New Jersey to their final destination in the Bahamas. A harrowing, non-stop flight, to a mysterious place they have never even seen before. I won’t elaborate: but everything about that is truly astounding to consider, on so many levels.

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LBI’s Dylan Yates bands, weighs, and measures Mr. Hand earlier this Summer.

But our adorable Piping Plover are not our only valuable export. And they aren’t the only ones flying south for the winter to return in the spring. So are many Islanders inspired by the magic of the shore. Like Dylan Yates. And coincidentally, both Dylan and Mr. Hand are in NC this week dealing with Florence. This is even more of coincidence considering the photo above where Dylan is actually cuddling Mr. Hand while weighing, measuring, and banding him this Summer.

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Dyan is an invaluable asset to LBI: master of Marine Biology and a dedicated volunteer monitoring our Piping Plover and our Osprey. We shouldn’t be worried about Dylan. ┬áHe is no stranger to storms as he and his family pulled through Sandy like the rest of us.

But Mr. Hand? That remains a mystery. How these newly born animals make the astounding journey from LBI to the Bahamas, and back, is mostly not well understood.

Did Mr. Hand sense the storm coming? Does he know how to respond? Is he safe? How many babies, well out at sea, flying on a wing and a prayer, are getting murderballed by the Monster that is Florence? I suppose we won’t know until next spring, when, and if, he, and they, return.

Godspeed Dylan. And Godspeed Mr. Hand! Wishing safe journeys for all of the babies.

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Dylan Yates. Mr. Hand.