Ipswich, A Tragedy

by Harriet Richie, Antigonish, Nova Scotia

This is a sad story. It’s sad in the middle and it’s sadder at the end, but it’s a story that needs to be told. So I will tell it. It begins with a young Ipswich Sparrow lying in her nest amongst the sand dunes of Sable Island with her last chick who had not yet left the nest.

So there I was, lying in my comfortable nest, breathing in the salty air. I was watching my last chick who had not yet left the nest. He had been slow from the start, some chicks are.  His growth seemed to have stopped completely a couple of days ago.  What if something was wrong?  No, no! I pushed the thought out of my mind. He simply hadn’t gotten enough to eat at the start and now, with the other chicks gone, I could focus on him, dear sweet little Marram. Oh sure, it wasn’t an original name.  In fact, here on the island it was a common name, but I certainly wasn’t going to give him a human name, I thought as I hopped to the edge of my nest and took flight.

The island seemed especially cold that day and I did not wish to go far from the nest. The wind was also something fierce. It seemed odd to have such cold weather at a more pleasant time of year, but the weather was becoming more and more unpredictable anyways, so I thought nothing of it.

I landed on the edge of the sand dunes and began to scour the sand looking for bugs and other small morsels. I found a small sweat bee lying on the sand and it tasted alright, but the tiny thing certainly wasn’t filling. I kept looking and came across what appeared to be several hard beetles of varying colours. Not wanting to miss my chance, I swallowed some quickly. They felt rather peculiar. They were very smooth with practically no legs and didn’t really move at all. I ate a few more and then took some back to my poor little chick.

Over the next two days I looked for these bug-like things, for they had been remarkably filling, if not very tasty. I discovered they mostly lived down on the sand by the shore, amongst the other coloured things that occasionally washed up. I fed them to my chick for several days and yet he did not seem to grow and did not get as strong as he should. Instead, Marram began to slowly waste away. He would not eat anymore; it was like he was full but not getting the nutrients he needed. His eyelids seemed heavy and he slept most of the day. He seemed sick and day by day he got worse, but would not eat anything I offered.

Tragically, on the third day Marram died. Of course, I had lost a chick or two before and it was always sad, but in the past it had always been the fault of the gulls who sometimes steal them. This time I felt as if it was my fault, as if I had done something wrong. I tried to push that thought out of my mind. I couldn’t have done anything wrong–I fed him and kept him warm in the little nest. But what if it had been those bugs? They were rather odd after all. They never really seemed like bugs to begin with. But no, no, it couldn’t have been anything he ate!

I decided to fly around the island and get some sea air into my wings. Maybe it would clear my head, and yet I felt so tired. Maybe I would just lie down for a bit. Suddenly I remembered what had been causing the nagging doubt in my mind: it was a little skeleton. It hadn’t been another Ipswich, or I would have connected it sooner–it had been a baby tern that I had seen on the dunes. The tern chick had been filled with brightly coloured little bug-like things. What if that had been what made Marram sick? What if they were making me sick too? But, alas, my poor tired mind finally relaxed into a peaceful sleep.

And with that our poor little Ipswich mother drifted off to sleep, so weak and tired that she just nodded off in her nest, her heartbeat slowing, blissfully calm. Poor little creature, completely unaware that her little heart would beat only a few more times, unaware that her body had starved, even though it had not felt hungry, and unaware this was happening to other creatures living on and around the sea as well. This is because it had not been odd bugs she was eating but small pieces of plastic that have been shaped by the ocean and washed ashore. Like I said at the beginning, this is a sad story, yet it is a story that needs to be told, for something needs to be done, not tomorrow, not next week, but now…

by Harriet Ritchie © 2020
Age 14, Grade 9, Dr. J.H. Gillis Regional High School, Antigonish, Nova Scotia

One of the two winning entries submitted to the Sable In Words writing contest for youth ages 12-14 years
January-March 2020
Sable Island Institute