Over a long, long decade of Readings From the Northside, there is one theme that has always been extraordinarily consistent. It is the singular focus on wild animals as fascinating little individuals instead of big, boring, anonymous populations. My primary motivation for focusing on this has always been that the unique personalities of animals are really, really interesting; sometimes tragic, often hilarious, always full of powerful truths. My secondary motivation is that it drives me bananas that so few people think about wild animals as the unique little snowflakes they actually are, or worse, don’t even believe they are capable of being unique at all. This poor understanding and lack of both observation and imagination causes people to miss so much joy in the world, and is also at the root of much of the incredible and unnecessary cruelty we show towards animals everywhere. And who doesn’t want to be happier and less cruel?
I used to have to make a lot of stuff up and rely heavily on my imagination to tell a compelling story about some bird. But not anymore. I didn’t notice it happening as it happened, but now here I am, years later, so totally overwhelmed with facts and data about the very real lives of individual birds that I struggle to tell their tales in the Readings because they are, in reality, so complex, so full of subtlety, so nuanced, and so important, that I would lose you after the first 3,567 words where I had only just begun to tell the basic ancestry of the bird (which often lies at the heart of their dramatic life stories.)
What I once wanted to be true so badly turns out to be absolutely true after all. And now I don’t know what to do with it.
So let’s try something different. In this “Collect All Six, Maybe Eight” Series, I want to attempt to follow through and quickly introduce you to each of the very real birds living in Todd Pover’s Plover Park @ Barnegat Light. Because we have three pairs of piping plover in the Park this season (a record) and we actually know every single one of these birds. Intimately. We have watched their tiny lives unfolding over the years. Through success and failure, triumph and tragedy, we’ve laughed and we’ve cried with them. When you think about it, it is absolutely astonishing. I really want to share their lives so people truly understand that when we talk about “protecting the piping plover” at Barnegat Light, we aren’t just speaking abstractly about a bunch of random birds who are indistinguishable from all of the other random birds everywhere. We’re talking about six very specific adult birds who are as deeply connected to Barnegat Light as anyone: human, or otherwise. I want you to laugh and cry with them too.
To put it simply, I’m not making this stuff up anymore. It’s real. It’s astounding. And it is absolutely magical! I’ll try to give you just enough background so you can figure out who your bias is 🙂
So friends, first up is Octavius Rex. Little ORex (for short) has just formed his first nest and everyone who knows him couldn’t be happier.
ORex showed up at Plover Park last year as a one year old and he actually tried to nest. That is not unheard of, but he was a little young. In his inexperience, he chose the northwest shore of the large water feature built in the park as his habitat. And he did manage (amazingly) to attract a very cute unbanded female. He was bold, aggressive, and incredibly persistent, and everyone watched in astonishment when it appeared he might actually pull it off. His feisty, little spirit definitely developed into an underdog energy and even the hardest of hearts wound up silently rooting for him.
Unfortunately, she bailed and Octavius Rex had to sit out the rest of the summer.
Now normally, when a male plover fails to attract a mate and form a nest, he’ll just accept defeat, move on, and enjoy the summer. But not little Octavius Rex. He stayed the entire summer in his little corner of the park peeping at everyone who dared to step on his turf and generally being chaotic. Even as late as August (which is really, freaking late for this nonsense), when all of the other chicks who survived the very dark summer had fledged and were preparing to leave for the Bahamas, Octavius Rex was still trying to control the situation and wouldn’t let anyone onto his turf. Which, incidentally, wasn’t that great to begin with. It was smack-dab in the middle of where all the gulls like gather to hold their Fight Clubs. The whole scene was truly ridiculous, but you couldn’t help but admire his spirit.
Octavius Rex stole everyone’s heart with his incredible commitment and persistence to his little corner of LBI. And this spring when he was one of the first to arrive back at Barnegat Light and set up shop, he became the odds on favorite and talk of the town. And when the world-famous, Barnegat Light legend Jennifer Jason Leigh was seen with him, we could barely believe what we were seeing. It seemed like a ridiculous long shot but ORex had already proven he was nothing if not persistent.
A few nights ago, Jennifer Jason Lee laid her first egg. As of tonight, they are at two. I don’t think I have ever seen a prouder egg-papa than Octavius Rex.
Congratulations Octavius Rex. You managed to mate. And you really, really scored with Jennifer Jason-freaking Lee. Hahaha!
Unfortunately, this is just the beginning. The very beginning. Will Octavius Rex’s persistence and incredible determination pay off when those eggs hatch and the real game of Plover Park begins? And, could it be that Jennifer Jason Leigh is just using Octavius to get back at her ex-mate Giant’s Bane? Who is nesting with a new mate, just on the other side of the Park? And maybe that she plans to steal her new babies hatched with Octavius Rex and deliver them to the known and well documented baby stealer, Giant’s Bane? Stay tuned!
There is never a dull moment in Todd Pover’s Plover Park. That’s for sure!
If you admire the scrappy, persistent, can-do kind of spirit that dreams big and never gives up, then Octavius Rex just might be your bias.
Fun Fact #1:
Octavius Rex’s father was Spicolli, and Spicolli was born in Barnegat Light! His grandfather was Pete McLain and his grandmother was Phoebe Cates. The next year, Pete McLain mated with…. drumroll… JENNIFER JASON LEIGH.
So Octavius Rex is mated with his… step grandmother?
Whatever the case, Barnegat Light runs in his blood.
Fun Fact #2:
The name “Octavius Rex” is a reference to an anchovy character in the SpongeBob SquarePants animated series. Octavius Rex was so committed to the habitat along the shores of the large water feature of Plover Park that I named it “Lake Anchovy” in his honor. I did not get a lot of support for that name… but now that he is nesting there, maybe?
Fun Fact #3:
Octavius Rex’s name is spelled incorrectly in his trading card. But now I’m sleepy. So we’ll have to live with it.