Moor on St Mary’s
The Lower Moors Nature Trail leads through a wetland consisting of a mixture of Sallow Thicket, Reed bed and wet pasture. There is a small pool in the middle of the moor overlooked by two hides. The raised path gives views across the largest Reed bed on St Mary’s and there is a circular board walk through the reeds on the western side of the main path.
A nature trail in the middle of an island with a pond in the middle – how perfect! On our second evening in the Isles of Scilly, everyone seemed content to do their own thing. That suited me just fine: I wanted to go exploring the Moors but it was unlikely to be suited to Anne’s wheelchair. I grabbed my camera, hoping for pretty photographs of exciting birds, and made my way to the trail.
I walked for about a minute and a half when I came to a junction. I shrugged and turned right … and arrived at another junction. I began to curse at myself for not looking at the map on the sign but slowly the tranquillity of the moors began to comfort me. I could still hear the seagulls from the coast but the lack of human noises was noticeable: no engines nor voices here. The scent had shifted from the salt and seaweed of Hugh Town to something completely different. Deep and green and sweet. Primal.
I kept going and the next right turn delivered me to one of the hides. It was a wooden shack, windows covered with hinged shutters that opened up and down like a letter flap on a door. I pushed one up and looked out. The pond was incredibly calm: if I breathed out too quickly, it might cause a ripple.
A man came in behind me with a pair of binoculars. Paranoia overtook me: what is the etiquette for sharing a hide? Should I say hello? Saying nothing seemed rude but if I made a noise I might scare the birds away. I nodded at him. He sat down at a window on the other side without a word. I took care to keep my breathing shallow and waited.
A grey heron flew slowly over the pond and then landed at the edge, looking statuesque. I stole a glance at my companion from the corner of my eye. I had no idea if I should tell him the heron was there, perhaps even tap his shoulder to gain his attention. Clearly he was here to see birds, is it not horrible of me not to tell him that there is a perfect specimen on my side? Or would that be the ultimate in rudeness?
In the end I said nothing and hoped the man might notice for himself. He stayed for a few minutes longer and then muttered something and left. I felt guilty for hogging the heron. By the time I looked back, it was gone.
But I was also relieved to be on my own again, relieved of the fear of doing something wrong. I relaxed and looked out my window. As the sun began to sink lower in the sky, the sound increased. I heard birds all around me, chirping and hoarse cries and one loud caw. They were everywhere: I just couldn’t see them.
Another heron, or perhaps the same one again, flew over the pond, skimming the water. I was quicker to react this time: I grabbed my camera and snapped a shot. A shocking blitz of light filled the area: I had forgotten to disable my flash. I look at the other hide: if anyone was there they must have seen my faux pas. I had frightened everything away for miles, no doubt. I moved away from the window, just in case someone in the other hide had a slingshot, and changed the settings on my camera to manual.
The clouds reflected light pink against the bright green algae of the pond. I didn’t dare move in case I scared everything away again. I could hear the occasional rustle of a bird in the reeds. A group of three young men stormed into the hide, lugging backpacks and high-powered binoculars. They looked out the windows and commented loudly on the utter lack of wildlife before thumping their way out again.
I rested my head against the side of the window. The wood began to vibrate, the thumpathumpathumpa of a helicopter’s pulse filling the hide as it drew closer, followed by the roar of the engine as it flew directly over my pond, as if to make absolutely sure there would be no birds within a five-mile radius of my spot.
I glared at the helicopter and then looked at the time: 20 minutes until sunset. I knew I should get moving but it was finally quiet again and I continued to hope that the heron might reappear and pose for me.
The door opened up carefully, a friendly-faced woman with ponytail of grey hair peeked in. She smiled at me and tiptoed to a seat, pulling a pair of binoculars out of an oversized handbag. I looked back out the window to see the heron standing at the far corner of the pond.
I started to lift my camera carefully and then changed my mind and turning towards the woman, whispered about the heron. She moved swiftly and soundlessly to my side and watched, rewarding me with another smile. The heron shifted its weight and then took off. I snatched at my camera, glancing at her before rushing to take the photograph in the failing light. She didn’t seem the least bit bothered and I breathed a sigh of relief. I had my heron photograph!
After I put the camera back down she began to whisper to me, pointing carefully out the window.
“There, a redshank, do you see it?”
I looked but saw nothing. I nodded. A black duck-type thing landed over on my side. I pointed to it and she whispered “Moorhen,” to me.
Meanwhile, the sun was setting. It occurred to me that this woman almost certainly had a torch in her bag but I hadn’t thought of anything that clever. Trying to follow that path back in the dark was not something I wanted to experience as part of my exploring. Nor did I want to admit to this friendly woman that I had come out quite so badly prepared.
A bird landed on the grass directly in front of us and hopped around. “Snipe,” she whispered. I didn’t dare stay but I didn’t want to move and frighten away the birds from her. The light was fading fast. It suddenly occurred to me that Cliff was probably starting to wonder where I was and he would probably – oh my god – ring my mobile phone. The thought of filling the hide with my Nokia ring tone finally got me to my feet. She gave me a tight smile as I nodded and made my way out as quickly and quietly as I could.
I followed the path in the fading grey light and quickly arrived back at the main road with the reassuring rumble and headlights of island traffic. I took one last photo of the night claiming the harbour before returning to the lights of Hugh Town to tell the others of my adventure.