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Why do the plovers fly away? - Chapter 20

Updated: Nov 9, 2021

Lookin' on the ocean blue

Sail away and think of you

Sweet caress the ocean blue

And I know it's not the last time

Somethings been pullin’ me to you

Tried ta hold it back a long time

Far beneath the silver moon


Like an ocean pullin' me in

Sweet caress the ocean blue.

Sweet Caress by Izzy Stradlin


Anne was in her mini laboratory at the research office when Mel returned a few days later.

“I stopped by Penelope’s nest on the way here. The chicks are doing well. You’d never imagine they’re only a few days old,” said Mel.

“Oh that’s lovely,” Anne said without looking up from her microscope. She was wearing her white lab coat again and her long braids were pulled back in a satiny pink scrunchie.

“What have you got there?” asked Mel.

Anne didn’t respond for a long moment. Finally, she scooted her chair back and stepped aside. “Take a look.”

The thing beneath the lens reminded her of a bone. A long, thin femur and tibia connected by a thick, round joint. The creature’s insides were filled with long, white lines like striated muscle tissue. At the end of the femur was what looked like the wrinkly face of an old man. When she blinked, it moved.

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Mel.

“Neither have I. I’m going to spend some more time trying to identify it and then I’ll take it to the university lab in Newcastle.”

Bakul popped their head around the door frame. “Ready to ring some nestlings?”

Anne nodded and flicked the microscope light off. “Are you alright, Bakul? You look a bit down.”

“Oh, it’s nothing horrible. I’ve been applying for autumn jobs and I’ve just gotten another rejection notice. It’s like all my volunteer work doesn’t mean anything to them. I’m alright, though.”

“Oh, that is frustrating!” said Anne. “You’ve got months before this project is finished, though. I’m sure you’ll find something.”

Ben stayed in his office while John joined them on the beach. John had started to let Mel help ring the birds, holding the nestlings gently while she squeezed the pliers.

“Careful, careful...give it another squeeze. Aye, that’s good.”

Mel was pleased with her handiwork. She admired the smoothly-joined metal with no gaps or overlaps. Who would discover this bird next, and where? Northern Ireland? Scotland? The coast of Wales? Maybe she could find another bird ringer to apprentice with when she went away to Uni, if she wasn’t too busy studying sponges or lobsters or new species of seaweed. She liked the feeling of accomplishment that came with ringing, the promise of solid data to come.

After they’d finished, she and Anne left the colony behind and sat down on the beach with a bag of crisps between them. Heavy grey waves rushed the shore, hissing as they retreated back to sea. Distantly came the shrill voices of plovers. Mel picked up a scallop shell and studied it, tracing the alternating brown and beige bands with her finger. The patterning reminded her of a tree stump. Her biology teacher had told her that you could estimate the age of a shell by counting each of its ridges and dividing that number by 365, since scallops produced about one ridge per day. She ran a fingernail perpendicular to the ridges and the shell made a sound like a güiro.

“I heard James Reckalder likes you,” Anne said suddenly, sneaking a glance at Mel.

“What? I thought he liked Lizzie Smith.”

“Changed his mind, I guess.”

“Hmph. Well I hope he changes his mind again. Boyfriends seem like more trouble than they’re worth.”

“I had one, once. Before we moved here from South Africa. He was nice, but it wasn’t going to work with us being on different continents,” said Anne.

Mel hesitated, trying to frame her question casually. “What about girls, Anne? Do you think you’d ever want a girlfriend?”

Anne pursed her lips, studying a seashell. “I don’t know. I guess I’ve never thought about it. Have you?”

She scooped a hole in the sand with her shell, careful not to look Mel in the eye.

“Oh, I don’t know. I guess I haven’t thought about it either,” Mel lied. Her heart was racing. “But–”

There was a loud grrrruff! of excitement from behind them. Suddenly, a yellow lab with a torn ear raced past them, kicking up sand in its wake. Mel saw at once where he was headed. She jumped to her feet, the empty bag of crisps forgotten to the wind.

Anne snatched it out of the air. “Hey, you’re littering–” she began. But then she saw where the dog was headed and rushed after it, too.

The dog burst into the plover colony like a four-legged tornado. Teeth flashed, limbs danced, feathers flew. The dog leapt one way and then the other, bound only to the wild instinct that whispered chase, hunt, kill. “Jesper! Jesper, no!” his owner yelled, but the dog paid no heed. It wasn’t the dog’s fault. He was only doing what a dog had to do.

“Jesper! You come back here this instant!” the owner bellowed.

The dog finally looked up, a mess of black and white feathers stuck to his snout. And then as quickly as he’d come, he trotted away with his tail between his legs. In only a few seconds, he’d trampled at least five nests and killed a few of the birds to boot.

Mel gestured vaguely at the carnage, horrified. “What do we do now?” she asked. For once, she was glad Penelope had built her nest in a car park and not on the beach.

“Let’s go tell my dad,” said Anne. “I imagine tomorrow we’ll assess the damage.”


Here's a recent scientific article on dogs disturbing plovers:

Read on:

About the author: Ella Shively is a recent graduate of Northland College. She is now working as a water resource specialist at the Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation in Ashland, Wisconsin, USA. You can find her online at

About this chapter's featured poet: Izzy Stradlin was a founding member of hard rock band Guns'n'Roses and one of the band's main songwriters. After leaving G'n'R in 1991, he has released 10 solo albums. Sweet Caress is a song on the 2002 album On Down The Road. Listen to it here:

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