Collect All 6, Maybe 8: Moaning Myrtle

Myrtle

I never dreamed it would be Myrtle because I never dreamed it could be Myrtle. So in the end it was just a failure of my own imagination which led me to believe I didn’t want it to be Myrtle. But never mind what I wanted, or dreamed, or imagined. Because it is Myrtle. Myrtle is the Queen of Todd Pover’s Plover Park, and the true heart and soul of Barnegat Light. She our most valuable trading card.

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve said things over the years like, “uggghhh, not Myrtle,” or “I’m not going if Myrtle is going to be there,” or “please, please, please let him choose anybody but Myrtle.”

Yes, I am ashamed of these things.

Yet in my defense, I didn’t spend the last half decade trying to avoid Myrtle because I hated her. On the contrary, I felt this way because I loved her. And because I loved her, I could not bear watching her attempt to cope with the almost unspeakable trauma she suffered, and through her attempts to cope, only create more trauma for herself and those, like her mates, like her babies, and like me, who loved her.

Back in the spring of 2016 when we first met her, Myrtle was a pretty, curious, easy going, unbanded plover who fell for a cocky, young male named Dobby on the front beaches of Barnegat Light. Everything was going great for the young pair and they were just a few days from their hatch when a group of us were heading to the State Park to band the chicks of the legendary pair, Tufters and Tacey.

En route to the banding, I got an urgent text. The banding was apparently cancelled and everyone needed to head to the front beach right away.

The great Rebecca Linhart had stopped for just a quick second to check on Dobby & Myrtle on her way to the banding when she discovered something unexpected and horrifying. The nest was completely gone. The only thing left was a terrified and panicked Myrtle running frantically through the footsteps of a mobbed beach full of carefree humans on a hot summer afternoon. A commercial truck was (illegally) speeding back and forth just a few feet in front of their now-empty nest, its back bed filled with tanned, bikini-clad girls along for a joy ride.

We pleaded with them to stop. But the tears and anxiety were counter productive; they inspired no sympathy or concern, only anger and more aggression.

Eventually Dobby was found with a sole chick, Winky. It appeared the nest hatched early and in the span of three hours, Myrtle lost three chicks on that packed beach. We’ll never know what actually happened that day, but we can be sure it was horrifically tragic. Myrtle was never the same. To this day, she is still the most traumatized animal I’ve ever observed. And she has left a huge trail of trauma in her wake.

Her troubles would continue into the next season with her ill fated nest with Mustache Byll. She quickly lost chicks Cyclops and Cinnamon Bun. Only one chick, Flapjack, was counted as a fledge, but I don’t think he actually even survived technically. She was a nervous wreck. It was sad to watch.

In 2018 she returned again and mated with the legendary Captain Jack. Early in the season many had high hopes that Captain Jack’s calm, cool, collected, and confident style might temper Myrtle’s anxiety and help her relax, and heal her, and allow her to be a the more effective and less panicked parent she was hatched to be.

But it didn’t. I loathed checking that nest because even just looking at those chicks would cause Myrtle to start chaotically leading the chicks into one dangerous situation after the next. I couldn’t bear to watch. Yet it did turn out to be a productive season for her, and along with Captain Jack, she fledged the entire Brigsby Bear Brood: Wizzle, Tizzle, And Brigsby.

When Myrtle returned in 2019 and reconnected with Captain Jack, she seemed more confident that spring. Time heals all wounds, and it seemed to be having that effect here. But as you’ve read here recently in other trading card histories, this would be one of her most tragic seasons yet. Captain Jack and Myrtle soon vanished completely, leaving behind a beautiful clutch of four, exclosed eggs. It was this void which Giantsbane filled.

It was almost a full year where no one knew if Myrtle, Captain Jack, or both were dead. In the spring a photographer reported her band and it felt like the mystery was solved. Until she wasn’t seen again. Everyone wondered if it was just a mistake… or maybe even a ghost. But in the fall a report came in that Myrtle had nested in the south, somewhere in Delaware or maybe Virginia. It was wonderful news. She had survived. And she had put the past behind her and moved on. And I didn’t have to witness it. In my heart, all was cool and good.

So you now can understand what a shock it was when Myrtle showed up in Todd Pover’s Plover Park this spring and quickly paired with Giantsbane. It was touch-and-go for a while there, with Emily Heiser and Christina Davis even giving her the nickname “Flight Risk.”

But it is a done deal. As I type this for you, Myrtle and Giantsbane are tending four beautiful eggs in Todd Pover’s Plover Park.

I’m still suffering from Myrtle-induced trauma. The photos on her photo card are the only ones in the series not from this season. Because I am still superstitious and still too scared to approach her, or even to be anywhere near her. I too am still traumatized by what I saw that day. But we are all healing thanks to Todd Pover’s Plover Park.

More than observing her trauma, I couldn’t stand to see Myrtle all of those years because it meant seeing all of the ugliness, all of the selfishness, all of the cruelty, all of the lack of compassion found in our hearts, even when we are recreating on the beach with our friends and families. The needless death of her three chicks on the front beach that day was no where near as horrific as seeing not just all of the people who didn’t care about this tragedy or the welfare of these animals, but all of the people who were outright hostile towards the small effort to help them. I have never felt more alone than I did on that crowded beach that day!

Will Myrtle’s story be one of redemption? Will Plover Park solve not just the technical problem of providing suitable foraging habitat for piping plovers, but actually prove its ability to heal psychic wounds; human, bird, or otherwise? Could the equally mysterious disappearance of Captain Jack and appearance of Giantsbane in 2019 actually be the mark of destiny which has led to a new King and Queen, Myrtle and Giantsbane, who will usher in a great era of productivity and recovery in Barnegat Light?

Stay tuned! Because one thing is for sure: there is never a dull moment in Todd Pover’s Plover Park.

If your heart bleeds for the traumatized victims of this world, especially those who push forward and climb the mountain despite horrific setbacks, obstacles, and psychic demons, then Moaning Myrtle might just be your bias.

6 Comments

  1. Today is #MMIW Awareness day. (Wear red today in support!) I can’t help but appreciate the parallels even though I don’t imagine you posted this today to purposely coincide and even though I imagine some would be offended that I would parallel the trauma to a tiny bird with the multi-generational trauma to humans, (even denigrated, disappeared ones), but the connection is real and apt and you describe it exactly right. Might I be so bold as to suggest their brood be named the Indigenous band in solidarity?

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    1. Thanks for this. They were unrelated. To your point, the more humans become focused on uplifting other downtrodden humans, the more I seem to get a question I have been getting since I first started: “With all of the people in need in this world, don’t you think you should apply your time and effort there, and be encouraging others to as well, instead of on animals?”

      I don’t know what the ultimate right answer is, but to me, that question alone demonstrates precisely why I don’t agree. Implicit in the question is the long-held human belief (in the majority of cultures anyway) that humans are superior to other animals and therefore more worthy of attention, compassion, effort, and other things. Since I can’t find any logically, philosophically, or spiritually sound principals that can support that line of thinking, it triggers even more compassion for animals in me.

      I don’t find the parallel offensive at all. I know plenty of people would, but if they look into their hearts they will see that the narrow view of the worthiness of their own kind, and their justifications for their superiority, are the same evil forces they are attempting to fight against.

      Put another way, the end winner of “who is the biggest victim of history most worthy of our compassion and effort” probably isn’t human. It is probably a wild animal and probably the top ten are all in the same species. Humans can at least ask each other for help.

      Lastly, I always caution against naming animals for real people (excepting celebrities and others who willingly put their fate in the public domain!), good principals, or anything you have strong, earnest feelings about. Because their fates are often tragic and it intensifies the pain. Silly names ease it.

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  2. It was Virginia and she even fledged 2 chicks! We thought we’d never see her again! And full credit to Em for flight risk. Even crazier than everything else os, to me, she is actually the mama of what will hopefully be the first (or one of the very first, and for sure among ENSP sites) clutches to hatch in 2021 in all of NJ!! God, this is a real nail biter! Oh, Myrtle, you are one of a kind!

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