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Why do the plovers fly away? - Chapter 11

Updated: Jun 4, 2021

Mist on the fields, and a deepening summer twilight,

Cattle passing homeward along the narrow lane;

Lily-pools that gleam in the darkness of the meadows,

Music of the night-breeze in fields of ripening grain.

Far above the mountains the last red light is dying;

Goat-bells chime faintly in pastures far away –

Nature is at rest, and the busy world lies dreaming.

In the magic hour of twilight, at the closing of the day.

Shadow on the rocks, and a wind across the water;

Glimmers of light in the eastern skies afar;

High rides the moon, her pale shafts of radiance gleaming,

Where the seething tide frets across the harbour bar.

Over the wild waves comes the call of the great spaces;

White breakers leap from a plain of silver-grey –

Dreaming lies the world, but the reckless sea still moveth,

In the mystic hour of twilight, at the dawning of the day.

- Two Twilights, Mona Douglas (from "Manx Song and Maiden Song")


It was unusually warm for the end of March, warm enough for Mel and Jackie to sit out on the beach in their winter coats and take in the last rays of sun. Bobbing in the waves, a grey seal watched them curiously. Twice, it blinked its enormous black eyes, and then the seal dove with the graceful fluidity of water itself. A few gulls flapped over, clearly eyeing the enormous heap of chips and gravy the girls had bought on their way to the beach. Jackie shooed them away.

Mel leaned over and grabbed a chip from the takeaway box between them, muttering, “Lisa loves chips and gravy when she’s drunk.”

“Lisa? I can’t imagine Lisa getting mortal. She doesn’t know how to have any sort of fun,” Jackie said, delicately wiping gravy off her chin.

Mel snorted. “It’s the only sort of fun she knows how to have.”

“They ought to put her on Geordie Shore.”

Mel laughed so hard a blob of gravy shot out her nose. “Lisa? On Geordie Shore? My mam would have our heads if she even knew we’d seen it!”

“As she should, Mel. I can feel my brain begin to atrophy every time it comes on the telly,” said Jackie.

Mel smiled. “Speaking of beloved local media stars, did you end up making that TikTok with Roger?”

“Aye, just posted it an hour ago, and his pretty face already got me ten new followers. We recreated the scene from Titanic.”

“So you pushed him off the door, then?”

“What–no, not that scene. The romantic one. Where she’s standing at the bow of the boat with her arms flung out like she’s flying.” “Oh, that’s sweet.”

“Aye, it is sweet. Look, my comments section is blowing up.”

She leaned over so Mel could see her screen as she scrolled through the comments. “Fire emoji, fire emoji, heart eyes emoji. Oooo, Halima Bulmer called us a power couple. Some troll said your a fat ugly bird, but he spelled you’re wrong. Should I correct his grammar or just block him?”

“I’d say correct his grammar and then block him,” said Mel.

“Good call.”

Mel took Jackie’s phone so she could get a better look at the video. Onscreen, Jackie soared at the prow of her grandad’s docked fishing boat, Roger behind her.

“My tripod’s broken, so we had to prop it up on a bench to get the shot,” said Jackie.

“Even without a working tripod, your content is class. You’re going to knock those pretentious film school boys out of the water,” said Mel.

“And then when I graduate, I’m going to make a documentary about your sea cucumber research, or whatever you end up doing.”

“No, you have to make an action movie! That’s always been your dream,” said Mel.

Jackie shrugged. “Who says I can’t do both?”

Mel shooed another gull away from their chips. The bird squawked indignantly, glaring at Mel with one beady yellow eye.

“Go on!” Jackie yelled, clapping her hands to scare the bird off. “These gulls are driving me mad.”

Illustration by: Suzy Sharpe (

“See that red spot on their bill? They’re herring gulls and they’re actually declining in the UK.”

“Aye? What’s going on with them?”

Mel shrugged. “Changes in the fishing industry, habitat loss, pollution, disease. They’re on the UK Red List. And they're amazing birds, really. Smart, very devoted parents and long-lived, too. I just read that the oldest ringed bird was 34 years old!"

Jackie shook her head. “I never would have imagined.”

She nodded at something behind Mel. “What kind of birds are those?”

Penelope’s flock had been slowly congregating in a small, sandy cove along the shore. “Oh, those are my plovers,” said Mel.

“Your plovers?”

“Aye, I see them nearly every time I’m here. There’s a funny one with a red leg band that I named Penelope,” said Mel, producing a pair of binoculars from her backpack.

“Did you really bring binoculars along? Nerd.”

“I’m constantly prepared for the possibility of science,” said Mel. She scanned the flock in search of Penelope. “That’s odd. I don’t see her.”

“Let me try.”

Both girls looked for several minutes, but neither could spot the plucky bird. Jackie thought she saw a flash of red, but she couldn’t say for sure in the dimming light.

“Maybe she’s gone off and found a mate,” said Mel.

“Aye, your wee bird is out there experiencing the love story of the century.”

“And what does the love story of the century look like for a bird?” asked Mel.

Jackie laughed. “You’re the biologist. You tell me.”


“No, wait.” Jackie pointed her cell phone camera at Mel. “Tell me the plover love story of the century, theatrical style.”

Read on:

About the author: Ella Shively is an undergraduate studying natural resources and writing at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin, USA. You can find her online at

About this chapter's featured poet: Mona Douglas was born to Manx parents in Much Woolton, England in 1898. She spent most of her childhood living with her grandparents on the Isle of Man, and she returned to live on the island again as an adult. An activist, folklorist, poet, and journalist, she is best known for her work in Manx cultural revival.

About this chapter's illustrator: With her work, Suzy explores the way in which humans and non humans experience the world in order to raise a question in the mind of the viewer and to create work which reflects a thoughtful and considered engagement with the natural world and the broader landscape. She says: “The best purpose for my work would be to bring meaning to the lives of the people who view it and encourage them to show respect, compassion and ultimately protect the non human beings with whom we share the planet.”

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