A chick-napping has taken place in the Plover Park neighborhood of Barnegat Light State Park. Local celebrity pair Stacy & Tatiana have snatched a two-day-old piping plover chick named “Man” from its parents Octavius Rex and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Unfortunately, they appear to have no intention of giving it back. There were no witnesses, and no one involved has any comment. But it happened.
Is this a tragedy? A victory? A crime? A blessing? That I can’t tell you. You’ll have to decide for yourself. But here are the facts we do know. You can’t make this stuff up.
Shortly after Octavius Rex and Jennifer Jason Leigh hatched their three gorgeous eggs hidden high on the hill under the goldenrod, Emily Heiser, Kashi Davis, and I banded the chicks.
We named their three chicks after heroic characters from epic survival stories to honor their struggles this season. So “Pi Patel” (from The Life of Pi) was banded bYbY. “Man” (from The Road) was banded bYbb. And “Ottway” (from The Grey) was banded bYbi.
While the banding itself went smoothly, we sadly discovered Octavius Rex with only one chick the very next day.
We assumed the two others had perished overnight. That is until later while observing Stacy & Tatiana, when we discovered that Stacy & Tatiana were brooding five chicks when they had only hatched four. Somehow, they had added a chick.
After carefully checking the bands, it became clear that the extra chick was “Man” from Octavius Rex and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s brood. He had somehow joined Stacy & Tatiana’s family on the other side of the Park, at just two days old, most likely through no choice of his own.
While I’d love to tell you this is unprecedented, it’s not. It actually happened in Plover Park last year too, and it happened to the same Stacy, Tatiana, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Only the shoes were on the other feet, which is precisely where the story gets interesting.
Plover Park is a small, tightly knit community of birds. So even though Jennifer Jason Leigh mated with first-timer Octavius Rex this year, last year, she was coupled with the King of Plover Park, Giantsbane. Stacy & Tatiana were newcomers (and, I’ll note, the talk of the town for their astonishing beauty and youthful courage.)
Last season, everything was going great at first, with Stacy and Tatiana raising their four chicks on one side of the Park, while Giantsbane and Jennifer Jason Leigh raised their three chicks on the other side of the Park. But shortly after Giantsbane and JJL lost their favorite chick, named Worldwide Handsome, they suddenly and shockingly marched across the Park, raided Stacy & Tatiana’s turf, stole three of their chicks right out from under them, and banished them permanently from their own turf.
For the rest of the season, Giantsbane and JJL commanded a super brood of five chicks (their own two, Jimin and Kookie, plus Stacy & Tatiana’s Gordon Cole, Jowday, and Agent Cooper). At the same time, Stacy & Tatiana raised their only remaining chick, Windom Earle, just on the outskirts of their turf, which Giantsbane & JJL had stolen from them. Thus, they had capitulated but not entirely surrendered.
And all the while, the young, unmated Octavius Rex ran around the Park chaotically, attempting to keep everyone out of his turf.
Tensions were high for the rest of the season, and neither JJL nor Giantsbane ever let Stacy, Tatiana, or Windom Earle anywhere near the others. But eventually all of the chicks would fledge successfully, and four of those youngsters (Jimin, Kookie, Gordon Cole, and Windom Earle) have returned this year as one-year-olds and are breeding! So it certainly wasn’t all bad. The final outcome was one of the best in Barnegat Light’s history. Four returning first-year breeders is a big, big deal.
Whatever the causes, the reasons, or the motivations, Stacy & Tatiana are now the undisputed King and Queen of Plover Park. They now wear the tiny crown and they now command their own super brood of five chicks. Perhaps this will become a rich tradition and the true legacy of greatness in Plover Park: raising as many of the Park’s babies as you can, regardless of who hatched them.
Or maybe, just maybe, it’s sweet, sweet, revenge.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, but hopefully you’re starting to understand that it’s not just a trite cliche: there is never a dull moment in Todd Pover’s Plover Park!
Whatever the case, godspeed babies, long live the King & Queen, and long live Todd Pover’s Plover Park.