There are more than 1,995 species on the national endangered list. They have ranged from American bison down to the tiniest of insects. All of these species just stand there, noticing that there are just a few others like them around, and they quiver in the sad anticipation of their demise.
Any one of these species could have been chosen by the U.S. Government as the poster child species for what we are doing to this planet. Any one of these species could have been selected to be the one that we would lavish our affections on, following up with a broad mandate demanding their protection.
One would have thought we might have raised to such an elevation the cute and cuddly Chinese Giant Panda. Or it might have been, for reasons of high drama, the Great White Shark, which is also endangered. Or it might have been the Prairie Buffalo, also on the list.
But oh no. The United States, in its infinite wisdom, chose to raise to this esteemed height this awkward, boring-looking, skittery little shorebird called the Piping Plover.
About 20 years ago, this country passed laws that made it a crime for which you could go to jail to upset, injure, intrude upon or cause the death of the Piping Plover. Where Piping Plovers are, you are supposed to be not. Thus we embarked on this bizarre arrangement where we not only are required to live and let live, we are also required to move away if one of these skittery little birds gets lost and decides to set up a nest on your lawn.
People speak about piping plovers in hushed tones. To even startle a piping plover is a crime. You can’t even yell at somebody and pound your fist on the table if a piping plover might be skittering about just outside your window. You never know when the Piping Plover Police will come, even in the middle of the night, to haul you away.
The piping plovers are so protected that for the last five years in a row the annual Fourth of July Fireworks at Main Beach in East Hampton, which before that had been held every year for more than half a century, were cancelled, not because crowds might trample or injure the piping plover birds, but because the loud noise of the fireworks going off—KABAM, WHOOSH KABOOM, WHIZZZZZZ—might hurt their little ears. That first year, a pair of piping plovers set up a nest in the dunes 50 yards to the east of Main Beach. A fenced off area was set up so you couldn’t go in there. Signs reading KEEP OUT were posted. None of this is even close to where the fireworks were held.
What a strange choice our government has made. Thirty years ago, artists came to our beaches with their oils and set up easels and canvases to make these marvelous landscapes of nature. Today, they can still do that. But they have to ignore the stakes and wires and snowfences and signs that block off all human access to about half the dunes. And they have to fend off these very aggressive Piping Plovers.
I submit that today, people going to the beach who were not here 30 years ago simply think that all these stakes and wires and snowfences and signs are just the way it is here. Well it is. At least for the piping plovers.
I took my little dog down to the beach in East Hampton for a run the other day after 6 pm. You can do that after six. It’s sunset time. You run your dog.
Where I took my dog was in a 100-foot gap between KEEP OUT signs and wires and stakes in which were the dreaded nests of the piping plovers.
We were there for less than five minutes. Just two minutes after we arrived, huge swarms of piping plovers went on the attack, swooping in on us, circling around and swooping again, sometimes brushing their wings against our faces as we just stood there—forget about going for a run. After a time, we gave up and ran back toward our car—let me revise that—got chased back to our car. This is an infestation of piping plovers. There’s thousands of them. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands.
And it just increases. Every year there are more and more piping plovers. If you go out where the plovers are in the morning before nine to walk your dog, you meet up with them when they are mean and hungry. They skitter along the water’s edge looking for bugs and sea life. They skitter back up the beach when the waves come in, skitter back down the beach when the waves come out. They think you want their breakfast. You go at dusk and they think you’re after their eggs. Nice people, these birds.
I’ve been told by the environmental police that patrol the beaches to keep them safe that they too are now pecked at and flown at by the swarms of piping plovers. I’ve seen a few policemen out there with bicycle helmets. It’s not pretty. Even five years ago and certainly 10, this was not a problem.
Three weeks ago there was a news item that down at Dune Beach in Southampton Village, somebody—they did not know who but they were investigating—had crawled in under the wire and had “buried” a piping plover nest. Four eggs were smothered. The police would round up these people. Suspects would be beaten into confessions. Prison terms would be long.
There was some talk about whether this was deliberate or an accident. The man who found the half buried nest said it had to have been deliberate. Who would do such a thing? The way the sand was scooped out and then folded over, well, they had considered it might have been a fox or a dog or something, but then why would they go to the trouble of “burying” the nest? And why, if they dug with their paws, were there no sprays of sand all around. No, it had to be a human, a human with a very troubled mind. They would find him. Couldn’t have been a “her.” Women would never do this sort of thing.
A few days later, I read about problems in Napeague with giant Ospreys. These are stunningly beautiful birds. They are graceful and gigantic. They have wingspans of six feet and you can sometimes see them gliding majestically, floating, actually, through the air looking for fish—which they grab by swooping down with their claws and grabbing them and then bringing them home to their babies in the nests.
It was noted that the giant Ospreys are still on the Special Concern List, and that they barely survived as a species 50 years ago when lethal DDT was sprayed on the wetlands in these parts to kill the mosquitoes before people knew how deadly that was. Subsequently, DDT was banned. Now they use a new chemical. And the Ospreys survive, although there still only a couple hundred of them on the East End, living high up in trees, or high up on huge eight foot square wooden platforms that the environmentalists put up atop telephone poles they stick in the ground to raise them up.
Anyway, the trouble in Napeague was that this Osprey couple had made a nest halfway up that 300 foot tall steel Mackay Radio Tower that looms over the wetlands there, were nesting there—everybody was happy to see them nesting there—but that an electric wire coming down one of the steel legs of the tower had come loose and was flapping in the wind near to the nest—and the mother Osprey could not easily come in to feed her young. In fact, soon, the mother and father Osprey left the nest with their chicks to a safer home somewhere else—maybe they had flown to Connecticut to get away. Our loss, Connecticut’s gain.
Fix the wire, fix the wire, people wrote in to the newspapers. But the flapping wire and the nest were 14 stories up, and even the local fire department doesn’t have ladders that tall.
I say the time has come to dethrone the piping plover as the designated species among the 1,995 others. I say the time has come to instead elevate these enormous, graceful magnificent birds to the mantle and crown of the Sacred Dalai Lama Throne of Thorns.
The piping plovers are a skittering infestation in 2012. The Ospreys are still on the special concern list, graceful and beautiful, and unafraid.
If we could make this change—hard to imagine in an age when businesses paint their trucks green and say they are saving the environment—we could tear down the hundreds and hundreds of plover enclosures. We could declare the ugly piping plovers saved and it’s time to move on.
They say that most adult Ospreys can swoop down and pick up a small dog on the beach and carry it off. They say there have even been occasions when the Osprey have picked up small children and flown off with them to god knows where.
With just a couple hundred or so Ospreys nesting in the area, though, this doesn’t seem to be a problem that we would have to consider seriously for at least another 20 years—by which time all my kids will be grown so I won’t care anyway.
So I saw Save the Ospreys. And let the Piping Plovers, now an infestation in the tens of thousands, join the rest of the cold cruel world to deal with declining revenues, shattered entitlements and pensions with the rest of us. Get out the brooms and sweep them out of the Hamptons. And those that don’t leave we’ll let the Ospreys have their way with them.
They snatch up small children?
I’m told the Piping Plovers aren’t even all born in America. I think with their little stubby wings this is very unlikely. But if it is the truth, send them back to where they came from is what I say. I say enough, enough.