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Why do the plovers fly away? - Chapter 8

Updated: May 17, 2021

It keeps eternal whisperings around

Desolate shores, and with its mighty swell

Gluts twice ten thousand Caverns, till the spell

Of Hecate leaves them their old shadowy sound.

Often 'tis in such gentle temper found,

That scarcely will the very smallest shell

Be moved for days from where it sometime fell.

When last the winds of Heaven were unbound.

Oh, ye! who have your eyeballs vexed and tired,

Feast them upon the wideness of the Sea;

Oh ye! whose ears are dinned with uproar rude,

Or fed too much with cloying melody---

Sit ye near some old Cavern's Mouth and brood,

Until ye start, as if the sea nymphs quired!

- "On the Sea" by John Keats


“Hi, this is Ben from South Tyneside Nature Coalition. Just calling to say that we looked over your application and we’d like to offer you the position. Give me a call back...”

Mel replayed the voicemail over and over again in her head. She still couldn’t believe her luck. Here she was, a working-class girl with no experience, being asked to help with a real scientific field study. Not that she would be able to accept the offer. She was already far too busy with school and work. It was immensely frustrating, knowing that she had been chosen to receive this experience and she couldn’t afford to take it. Snobby Chelsea Armstrong’s mam had literally paid her to do a marketing internship, and she’d still managed to get fired. Why was life so unfair? Nevertheless, Mel had taken Ben up on his offer to show her the research office before she made her decision.

As she stood before the slightly worn-looking brick building that housed the South Tyneside Nature Coalition research office, Mel wondered how many times she’d walked past it without noticing. It was situated on the shorefront, not far at all from her usual spot on the beach. For all she knew, Penelope might fly past this building every single day. Jackie had dropped Mel off after a morning shift at Schooner or Later, and she checked her reflection in the window, hoping her face wasn’t too blotchy from the heat of the kitchen. A little red, but not horrible.

Inside, the small building was well-lit with large windows that overlooked the beach. The exposed brick walls were tastefully decorated with a variety of artworks: a map of South Shields from 1921, a framed photograph of Wangari Maathai, a watercolor painting of a newly-hatched plover chick. A bowl full of sweets rested on a long conference table, and beyond that were three small offices. One of the office doors opened, and a tall man ducked out.

“Ah, you must be Mel! I’m Ben. We spoke on the phone yesterday.”

Ben looked as friendly in real life as he’d sounded on the phone. He had warm, brown eyes, brown skin, and close-cropped curls, with deep smile lines etched into his face. Mel guessed he was in his late forties or early fifties.

“Here, take a seat and I’ll bring the others out to meet you. Richard just left, but–”

“I thought I heard someone come in! Hi, I’m Bakul. I use they/them pronouns. I’m Ben’s research assistant.”

The person who emerged from the second office was tall and slender as a hollyhock. They wore a long blue dress patterned with roses, the skirt and sleeves frilled with thick strands of lace. Their facial hair was artfully shaved to resemble flames, or perhaps curling waves.

“My name’s Mel. She/her. I love your dress,” said Mel.

“Thanks!” said Bakul. “I made it myself.”

“Bakul, can you tell Mel about your role in the project?” said Ben, casting a glance toward the third office before taking a seat. The others followed suit.

“Of course,” said Bakul. “I graduated from Queen Mary’s of London two years ago and this is my first marine science job. Well, my first paid marine science job. Unfortunately, I didn’t get interested in marine biology until after I graduated. I’ve been working with Ben for the last two months to get this project up and running. I’m going to be splitting my time between helping out in the field and working on data in the office–running analyses, entering data, quality assurance, you know, stuff like that.”

Mel didn’t know, but she nodded anyway. “So would I be working with you in the field?”

“Yes, we’re thinking of having you come in a few days a week to help out. To start with, we’ll have you cording off nests to keep people from stepping on them by accident. Dealing with some of the education and outreach. And then once the birds lay eggs, we’ll have to weigh, measure, and photograph all of the eggs and chicks. Ring them, too. So we’ll be training you to help with that,” said Bakul.

Mel pointed to the painting of the plover chick on the wall. “You mean I might get to hold one of those wee baby birds?”

Illustration by: Talya Zaki.

“Well, we try to minimize how much we interact with the babies, because it can be stressful for the animals. But yes, there’s a very good chance you’ll get to hold a plover chick if you intern here. You’re not allowed to handle the birds by yourself, but Bakul and I are both licensed bird ringers, so we can supervise you,” said Ben.

Mel could feel her willpower beginning to slip. She knew she needed her free time to study and earn money, but she couldn’t stop imagining the warmth of a tiny baby plover in her hands. Maybe she’d even get to watch Penelope’s chicks grow up, if the quirky bird ever had any.

The door to the third office opened and a girl in a white lab coat stepped out. Mel’s heart nearly stopped.

Author’s note: South Tyneside Nature Coalition is a fictional organization.

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 illustrator: "I am a mother and artist who loves to surround myself with art and nature. Drawing and walks along the beach and in the countryside is my way of tuning out from some of the world's chaos. I love the idea of merging the two together, and my greatest hope is by raising my two children around nature and art they feel the same connection."

About today’s featured poet: John Keats was a British poet born in London in 1795. Before his untimely death at the age of twenty-five, Keats published 54 poems in a wide range of poetic forms. Although his work was frowned upon by snobbish critics during his lifetime, Keats is now known as one of the greatest poets of the Romantic era.

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