A fairy door in a tree – that ‘s the prompt today from KL Caley at New2Writing.com. I was intrigued by the oystercatcher painted on the door, and checked to make absolutely sure they did not nest in trees! In Norfolk they nested on the floodplain not far from my house. I used to love hearing their piping noise as they flew up and down the river. There were also occasionally goldeneye, seen in winter. But they nest further north… in trees. This bird-inspired tale is just over 800 words.
Forest Fairy of the North
Three months. That was what she had signed up for. Three months volunteering at this northerly forest reserve. She’d checked in at the lodge at the reserve entrance, dumped her backpack, and set off for her first evening walk in the forest.
That was the requirement, monitor the breeding birds, and report on any significant dangers, which was a euphemism for egg collectors and bird thieves.
‘On no account try to tackle any suspicious characters yourself. If you can get a photo, however bad the light or the focus, that’ll do the trick.’
The training officer’s words rang in her ears as she made sure her phone was easy to reach. She’d charged it on the train, just in case.
Even in April, the night came late. By the time she left in July, it would be only truly dark for an hour, if that. Northern Scotland was further north than you’d think. Just an hour, the simple track around the lake, that should be fine for her first evening.
The shadows were lengthening, and the pine trees released a resinous scent that wafted through on the stiff breeze. Very little of the wind made it to the forest floor, but it moved the canopy above and made it creak ominously. The path was clear, well-marked. Larch needles made the walking soft and fragrant. Roots popped up unexpectedly, though, and she took care where she put her feet. A glint of light through the trees—would that be the lochan? Ah yes, right on schedule. And a new visitor board to explain how they came about and the different species that used it.
Would there be goldeneye? That was her big hope. Goldeneye only bred in the far north, and this reserve had been a regular breeding ground for them till three years ago. Too many disturbances had scared them away, abandoning half-fledged chicks to their doom.
She paused, half-hidden behind a tree, and studied the lochan.
A ‘plop’ of something, maybe a grebe, possibly… although goldeneye were diving ducks… no, it wouldn’t be down this long, it must be a grebe. ‘Plop!’ yes, there it was, little tyke, a tiny fuzzball of black and bronze plumage with a ridiculously short back and bottom. She smiled, and walked on.
By May, she was doing this walk morning and evening, and rested at one of the hides in the day. Her main interest was the boxes on the tree trunks opposite the hide, as much as eighty metres into the forest. Goldeneye didn’t make it easy for their young, that was for sure. Not for them the platform of reeds and twigs hidden in the rushes at the side of the lochan.
But what really intrigued her was the small blue doorway on one of the nestholes. It was numbered, had a picture of a flying oystercatcher, on it, and looked like it was a survey project of some kind. But nobody at the lodge knew anything about it. The goldeneye boxes were just that: boxes with an open front, much like barn owl boxes.
She recorded four pairs of goldeneye around the reserve, and took turns with another volunteer to cover the other lake at night. This was the danger time. The nights were now light enough for her to be out in the forest safely through the night, and she could sleep in the day. But other people might sneak in at night, if they knew the goldeneye were nesting. Operation 007 was in full swing. The local police saw it as their duty to protect wildlife from criminals, thank goodness. Her mobile had them on speed-dial, and Vodafone had made sure there was coverage, part of their sustainability project—thanks largely to a key employee in high places, who had been a volunteer in his time.
‘Record everything,’ the trainer’s words reminded her. ‘Little details can be significant later.’
What was that?
She whipped up her high-spec binoculars, automatically adjusting for the dim light conditions, and searched through the forest.
There, in the vicinity of box AS—and the one with the blue door.
What on earth… That was not a man. She snapped a general shot, then zoomed to get the best clear shot she could. Not a deer, nor a fox, nor even a beaver, straying from the area they’d been reestablished, many miles away. It was dancing through the twilit pines, flashing silver and blue.
A goldeneye erupted from the nest box as it passed, shrieking her complaints. The vision headed for the blue door… and was gone.
The inquest on her photos, and analysis of the video she’d had the inspiration to record, continued for months after she’d finished her contract. She signed a secrecy agreement, in return for a promise she’d be kept informed of developments.
There were fairies in a forest in Scotland, protecting the nesting goldeneye. Operation 007 had assistance from a higher power.
© J M Pett 2022