Long Beach lovers wait for it. It’s the annual joy when Oystercatcher chicks burst from their shells—and into our lives.
These are some past photos I took of the chicks. Watching these fuzzballs, (Our watchful Beach Maintenance moniker) working spindly legs over soft sand, gladdens the heart.
Few moments carry the empathy with the moms and dads as they protect the young; we humans can relate to that.
One avid bird lover, Lisa Nadler-Reischer, trekked our shore, regularly checking up on the newborns’ progress. She delighted us with her photo updates. She and others, ( like Anne Bickford, of Facebook’s Long Beach Oystercatcher Chronicles : https://www.facebook.com/groups/537744663096107 ) even give names for these wobbly “toddlers,” like the recently born, “Winnie.” Some of these chicks keep their names well into mature birds in Long Beach, like Winnie’s mom and dad, Wendell and Wendy.
One recent morning, Lisa took these remarkable photos of young Winnie:
Mom (or dad) fed Winnie that sunny morning…
…then left her tucked in the sand…
…while she returned to the sea for more nutrition.
It was then that the horror began:
A gull swooped in and killed the chick—right in front of Lisa’s eyes.
Lisa was beyond grief and approaching the need for counseling. Her Friends on Facebook erupted in revulsion, but offered sincere support for Lisa.
These Friends were kin with Lisa, kin in love for these newborns. They, too, took photos and followed Lisa’s progress reports. Through these posts to Lisa, one could feel their sorrow and know their tears.
So many OMGs:
“I’m devastated,”—”Whaaat! Oh my goodness, that is so awful!!”—”I’m so upset. I’m so sorry you had to see that. OMG,”—”We’re going to need a grief counselor.”—”Omg. How horrific,”—”Nature can be so cruel at times. So sorry for you and our beloved Winnie,”—”I’m sick to my stomach. So very sad,”—”Heartbreaking. Nature is so cruel,”—”I am in tears…nature is so cruel…our sweet Winnie,”—”Crying.”
These shorebirds kill for protein.
Not so we simians.
Our species kill for many reasons, sometimes with genocidal motives. We’ve built gas chambers in this endeavor.
As Justin Gregg says in “If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal”, Chickens are highly unlikely to “unite en masse to rain death down upon the world in pursuit of glory for the Great Chicken Nation.”
Animals get by just fine by “learned associations,” says, Gregg. They link actions with results without having to understand why something is happening. Humans have complex thought, which brought us miracle drugs and put us on the moon. But our big brains have also empowered us to wreak ecological havoc on our planet. https://tinyurl.com/4vfhfuv8
Too many times we’ve seen our species kill our young as they shop in malls, pray in church—or study at school.
So, on planet Earth—birds are cruel?
We humans only share this shore with birds. Some birds have been nesting here long before we invaded this shore.
Despite laws against it, our species sometimes destroys these shorebird legacy nests. See this week’s Newsday report, “57 American Oystercatcher eggs and four piping clover eggs were taken from their nests…”:
Many of these followers of shorebirds are profoundly empathetic. Others, through experience, age, or both, keep an emotional distance.
I enjoy our Oystercatchers and love taking their photos. Nevertheless, I keep front-of-mind, that nothing, no thing, is permanent, especially the young and vulnerable. The ugly is part of the drama of nature.
A few years ago, I did come upon a scene where I expected to take photos of newborn chicks I followed the day prior. That morning, I found one of them dead—at my feet—still warm. See: https://leebythesea.me/2015/05/31/so-fragile-so-precious/ This again, by an apparent gull attack.
I can’t mentally adopt these creatures, nor join in giving names to these chicks. I can’t be open to that; my world has enough worries.
I never did get close enough to harass our nesting shorebirds, I use a long lens. But even visiting them often, along with others who probably came after I left, didn’t help them. So, I visit them much less.
I ask myself, why do these bird lovers put themselves at such risk of pain? The creatures of the wild, in deep woods or unpopulated beaches, are on the razor’s edge of existence every day—and we don’t see their lives torn away.
But, on our Long Beach shore, the wild is more theater for us. We can view it from our two-mile boardwalk balcony, or even climb onto the sandy stage with them. This nearness makes our chicks appear less wild to us, almost family.
They are so full of love for these chicks that they become a big part of their spring and summer lives. But when nature turns brutal, the theater, bloody—it’s a dark drama.
Often Oystercatchers successfully fight off gulls, as seen in previous dramas I captured.
But, as we’ve seen in Lisa’s case, not always.
Maybe those willing to take the hit, as Lisa did, for the joy of closeness are just braver than me. Or perhaps they have so much love in their hearts it just has to release.
The gory scene Lisa witnessed is disturbing, and we can’t do anything to prevent it. But perhaps, instead of just accepting the sadness, we can release it by helping shorebirds in general.
Possibly, Winnie’s death and my humble words might cause us to help all shorebirds.
We can join the Audubon Society, (here’s our local chapter: https://www.ssaudubon.org and their Facebook site: https://tinyurl.com/2p9bcnaf ) or any other bird or beach conservation group. We can demand cleaner beaches, safe distance standards for nest perimeters, ban the release of balloons, worldwide—and petition to enforce these standards.
Individually, we can be more responsible: we can stop discarding plastic six-pack holders, plastic bags, strings and ribbons. We can pick them up when we see them. All these items can lead to ensnaring shorebirds for a torturous death. We can also keep our distances for nesting shorebirds, keep our children away from them, keep our dogs leashed, especially during nesting season,
I think some of us go to the shore to escape “civilization.” The seashore is a ray of light to us in a world of darkness. When I look at the turmoil on the news, the sadness that pervades almost every newscast, it’s bleak.
I know you’ve heard that the crack in the vase is what lets the light in. I sometimes think of life as living within the vase, and the crack of light is the shore. It’s the blue of sky, the salt of sea, that brings primal joy. The shore isn’t just another place to be, it is the place to be.
It’s just the being there.
And when new life comes into the sea, the salt, the sand—with us—it’s sublime.