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Why do the plovers fly away? - Chapter 16

Updated: Aug 26, 2021

ever changing, constant

rhythmic and random

silence, full of sound

like cold water

soothes my soul

gull cry awakens

saline cleanses

and vastness dwarfs

as I sit and breathe

the hearty air

sometimes I talk

and the waves listen

but mostly the waves talk

while I sit still

and listen

Sea by Bronagh M. Dunne



For once, there wasn’t a hint of a breeze on the beach. Not the softest puff of air to

dispel the fine droplets of fog that clung to Mel’s skin like a cool hand. Even the sound of the waves was dulled, and the watercolor cliffs looked as though they’d been painted with too much water and too little pigment. Mel could still see just fine – it wasn’t that thick a fog but she was having a hard time picking out the individual plover Anne was talking about. Noticing her struggling, Anne handed over her own high-powered binoculars.

“Look, that one’s really putting some effort into her nest,” she said, whispering so as not

to disturb the birds.

Mel adjusted the focus and peered down the beach.

“‘Nest’ is a bit of a strong word for it,” she said.

Like the other plovers, this bird had “built” her nest by scraping a barely perceptible dent

in the gravel. Although her construction method was low-effort, she apparently possessed a good eye for design. Two round lumps of sea glass added a pop of periwinkle to the otherwise invisible nest.

“Do you think she added the sea glass on purpose?” asked Mel.

Anne shrugged. “I don’t know. Doesn’t make sense to me; she’ll want that nest to draw

as little attention as possible. Ah, there’s her mate flying in now with a bit of seaweed for the lining. That’ll help cover things up.”

The flock had split off into small, loose groups and solitary pairs to nest. Three other

couples had settled in the vicinity of the sea glass nest. Very gently, Anne approached the area and drove a wooden stake into the ground, then walked a few meters away and set another. Mel followed quiet as a ghost, tying a length of bright orange flagging tape around the first stake. Around in a circle they went, completely silent, Anne setting the posts and Mel the rails of their makeshift fence. Already once today they had been swooped by anxious parents-to-be, and Ben said that they would only grow feistier as the breeding season wore on. Most of the birds were still in the nest-building stage of parenthood, though a few had already laid eggs. Ben had told them that the real population explosion would take place in the month of May. Circle completed, the girls began picking their way back down the beach, careful to watch for any nests they might have missed. That had been the last group of nests to chord off, and there was no sign of Penelope. Where could the wee bird have gone off to? Mel hoped a predator hadn’t gotten her. Yesterday she’d seen a big red fox slinking about the alley behind Schooner or Later in its tall black boots, and her delight at catching a glimpse of the wild creature had mixed with worry for her bird.

John and Bakul were grinning ear to ear when the girls met them at the tideline. They,

too, had been busy marking plover nests, in hopes of keeping beachgoers from treading on them by mistake.

“I take it your work went well?” said Anne.

“It did. We found three pairs with eggs already, and they’ve taken a liking to John!” said

Bakul, eyes glinting with mirth.

John, whose black mac was splattered with white bird droppings, looked surprisingly

unphased. “Aye, well the poor birds would never get off the ground if they were always holding it in.” He turned his attention to Mel and Anne. “Did you remember not to set the flagging too close? That tape is a bullseye for predators if you don’t take care.”

“Aye, we set it well clear,” said Mel.

Mel was beginning to shiver in the cold fog, and Bakul took notice.

“It is chilly out here, isn’t it?” they observed. “I think that’s enough work for the day. Ben’s

on a conference call and I’ve got a job application to finish, so you all can head home now.”

“Oh,” Mel said awkwardly. “Jackie isn’t picking me up for another hour. Is it alright if I stay

in the office until then?”

“We could get hot chocolate,” offered Anne.

It was certainly the right weather for it. The two set off toward town centre, and somehow a turn of conversation found Mel passionately describing whale fall, the unique ecosystem generated by a whale carcass decomposing on the seafloor. Would her parents have been as engaged in this sort of conversation as Anne was? Would Jackie, even? When Mel mentioned the sulfophilic bacteria that lived inside a dead whale’s bones, Anne squealed and wrung her hands with excitement.

“Mel, you’re a genius! I’ve mostly been taking sediment samples to look for new microbes, but I never thought to look inside a whale. You’ve got to ring me next time you see one washed up on the beach,” she joked.

Anne began mumbling about a special kind of tissue sampling technique she might use

if she were to stumble upon a dead whale. Mel didn’t understand most of it, but she was just happy to listen. And happier still when Anne linked her arm in hers, like an old, old friend.

Read on:

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

About today's featured poet: "I live in a coastal town in Ireland. When all else fails, I know the sea will always be there. Its mesmerizing beauty always grounds me. Something about it always stills my troubled spirit. I wrote this poem to express how those times by the sea felt."

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