ALONE

By

ALONE

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We recognise the cuckoos call,

the skylarks song one and all,

a calling owl brings us fear,

are we sure what it is we hear

Just the usual, a large flock of Canada geese, a few coots and then the odd group of ducks bobbing up and down on the still slightly choppy water. The storm of the previous couple of days not quite said its goodbyes just yet. I suppose I was hoping that the fierce winds might have blown a few birds off course and sent something out of the ordinary my way. Perhaps a tired finch or rare duck dropped down to the lakeside for a bit of refuge from the winds. Well, lake might be too grand a word for it, really it was more a disused gravel pit. It had been there perhaps one hundred and fifty years and owed its existence to the not to distant maltings. They now, were also disused but the building of them all those years ago had demanded vast quantities of sand and gravel, and that was the beginning of this watery oasis on the edge of town. The now almost derelict maltings stood as a ruined gateway into the once thriving market town, now a sad monument to its past prosperity. The maltings decline had been watched by this body of water which had seemed to flourish as the years had been cruel to its red brick sentinel.

A huge body of deep water with a couple of tree clad islands, sitting centrally and lording over their surroundings. Trees and shrubs now crowded its once bare banks but gave way to the water at the steep declining edges. Wildlife had come to the trees and surrounding hedgerows and made this place a haven for birds among the intensly farmed fields surrounding it. The cormorant certainly wasn’t a passing bird, he had always been a resident as long as I could remember, and there he sat high on his usual perch. Out on the island atop an old creaking willow he watched, safe in the knowledge nothing could bother him. Perhaps he was too full to fly after spending the morning gourging himself in the fish rich waters.

 

My attention turned to the rafts of ducks that had come into view from the back of one of the islands. I scanned them through my binoculars more in hope than expectation. Just the resident mallards and the odd tufted duck even a few Pochard had joined them for the winter. Yes they were beautiful, but today I just thought I may have seen something a little bit different. Close to the island there was a man made raft, where fly fisherman used to moor boats. A perfect spot to spend long lazy summer evenings, but that was a few years ago now when the water was a renowned trout fishery. I can remember as a young child watching, as green clad men wiled away their time flicking out an assortment of different coloured flies, in anticipation of landing one of the waters prized rainbow trout. These events were now confined to fisherman tales of summers past and the raft had long since become a roost for gulls. A safe platform away from predators and there they now sat perhaps a dozen of them. The white of the gulls a lot easier on the eye, after the grey sky, dark hedgerows and black forbidding water. Looking decidedly lethargic they sat around preening themselves or just sleeping. The small black dot behind their eyes identified them as blackheaded gulls, their dark head gone for the winter. As I checked through them with my binoculars, I became aware of a different bird among them right at the back almost hidden. Yes it was black and white maybe a tufted duck climbed up onto the raft. I waited for a better view and as a couple of gulls took to the air it revealed itself to me.

A slim white body black on top and white beneath, long pink legs, percing red eye and yes an unmistakable long orange bill. It was an oystercatcher, it was the first I had ever seen here. Forty miles inland, not a sign of sand, shingle or a sea breeze, or any of its companions. Yes I knew they left the coast and came inland, but I had never seen one here before. The bird was looking quite weather beaten and forlorn not the usual bright, alert bird I had seen on my excursions to the sea shore. As I watched, it let out along almost mournful piping that echoed around the rimmed bowl of water. It continued to call and after each eerie call it waited as though listening, waiting

for a reply, but there was none.

Nor would there be one, the bird was alone. It had been blown many miles from its kind and now was too weak to fly and without the prospect of food the young bird was quickly running out of time. The deep water did not possess much of a shoreline. Its sharp declining edges were only briefly punctuated by an old boat slipway that formed the only entrance way into the water. How had this poor bird arrived at the pits and what lay in store for it?

As the storm blew and the waves crashed against the rocks, the air was filled with salt water spray, the flock of 40-50 oystercatchers huddled closer together. The birds on the periphery pressed in closer to the ever-tightening throng. All afternoon they had retreated up the beach as they did everyday, but today was different. The first of the winters storms was upon them and the young birds, chicks just five months ago sensed the fear in the adults around them. The water came closer and closer. Further up the beach than it had ever done before in the young birds short lives. The ice cold wind blew in off the sea lifting the birds feathers and tugging at their wings. The roar of the waves smashing onto the shore came at the exclusion of all other sounds. The storm was reaching its peak and the sea was getting closer. The oystercatchers squeezed closer together up against the sea wall now in an ever tightening circle until finally, there was no where else to go. If they stayed the next giant wave would claim them the only escape was up. Up into the night sky, up into the maelstrom of a storm that was to change everything for at least one young bird. The fierce wind caught hold of him the moment he took to the air, ripping it away from the others. Pushing it first one way and then twisting it another, there was no choice, the young bird did whatever the wind bid. It hurled it inland away from the sea, the oystercatcher was at its mercy and no amount of struggling against it would help. It was forced away from the only home it had known. Forced high into the waiting arms of the storm and removed from the security of the only life it had ever known.

During that first summer it had never ventured far from the constant piping of the others and the reassuring presence of the sea. The youngsters life and that of the others had been lived with the ebb and flow of the tide. Venturing down to the beach to feed as the tide receeded and as the tide turned returning to roost beneath the sea wall. Waiting to repeat the same ritual over and over again. It had been a life ruled by the regularity of the sea, but now it had all changed. With no adult birds to guide it and at the whim of the storm, fear gripped the lone bird. Every time it tried to turn back it was faced with a force too strong even for its desire to return. Alone and afraid it fought an ever losing battle throughout the night. Buffeted by wind and rain it looked down upon the strange bright lights of towns and villages. The bird flew on confused and tired, staring down at the alien environment beneath his aching wings. The dawning of a new day brought with it a slight calming in the storm. As the sky grew brighter and the sun tried desperately to show itself, the oystercatcher looked down upon a completely new world. A landscape of greens and browns, of houses and trees, gone were the white tipped waves and golden sands. Confused, hungry and close to exhaustion it saw something it recognised, the first rays of sun glinting on water. Although it seemed almost still and lifeless to one who had known the moods of the ocean. It was water and water meant food, it would give it a chance to rest and regain its strength before the flight home. Down into this strange world, down past unfamiliar tree tops. Hunger now replacing fear and for the first time in fourteen long hours the birds wings closed and it landed clumsily on to the boat slipway. Two startled mallard rose noisily into the air and after a couple of circuits overhead landed on the water on near th opposite shore. The bird knew it must feed and walked quickly down the slipway into the cold dark water. The long slender beak probing the mud and then recoiling quickly. The water tasted so strange to one who had only ever known sea water. Although different it wasn’t unpleasant and the bird soon resumed the search for food along the thin ribbon of shoreline. After about twenty minutes of almost fruitless searching the bird raised its head and let out a call, hoping for a reply, a call to feed. As the minutes turned to hours the need for food became desperate, the long flight and battle with the storm had taken their toll. The young bird couldn’t just wander down to a nearby mussell bed or pick along the tide line for a dead crab. lt looked longingly out onto the water and saw the raft with a few gulls perched

upon it. Gulls, the bird knew, greedy and argumentative gulls and what were they sat upon? It reminded the hungry bird of an easy meal it had once chanced upon. A fishing boat dragged up onto the beach, mussels that were due to be used as bait strewn all over the bottom of the boat. Yes the gulls had beaten it there, but there was enough for all. It had joined them in a feast until chased off by an angry fisherman. This would be its last chance, perhaps even now the gulls were tugging the sweet flesh from the mussels shells. The battle with the gale had taken its toll on the young bird, summoning its last vestiges of strength, the tired and hungry bird pulled itself up into the air and flew out over the water. Its aching wings only just responding , the raft drawing closer with every wing beat. One last defiant flap enabled the bird to land clumsily on the bare wooden planks. The screeching gulls showing their annoyance and pecking at the stranger in their midst.

There were no mussels, in fact there was nothing and now with all its energy spent all that remained was to wait, wait for the end.

The oystercatcher let out a long mournful cry.

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Comments

30 Aug, 2010
Dipper
david said:

This was spellbinding reading, Gqu !! I wonder if the bird will get back to the coast? I live just 10 miles inland, and see oystercatchers in summer on nearby playing fields, because they nest on the rooftop of the local primary school every year. Not quite sure why they do so, though.

30 Aug, 2010
P1150022_1
jane said:

A wonderful...yet very poignant piece of writing Gqu.you should try to get some of these stories published.No need for photos...it is easy to imagine the scene without them.Thank you for sharing this....was hoping for a happy ending though...

31 Aug, 2010
36768_10150229300465111_840535110_13242075_1150570_n
alanvann said:

A very emotive, descriptive piece, as Jane said there is no need for pictures as the mind creates its own from your beautiful writing. Left me feeling quite sad, which I feel captures the emotional aspect well. Thank you

31 Aug, 2010
015
aster said:

What an exciting yarn,alas no happy ending but there's nature for you ! How many times must this be repeated along coastlines ? :(

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