With my father’s reassurance echoing in my mind I walk with feigned confidence towards the lake on the edge of the cliff, around the cows and under the flight-line of the kittiwakes who ferry back and forth between cliff and lake.
I am closer to the lake now, walking up a slight mound as I begin to get dive-bombed by nesting black-headed gulls. The gulls’ piercing shrieks are attacking me in surround sound and I am trying not to be intimidated.
My mind is on the gulls when I hear behind me a single guttural utterance, a distinctly different bird’s cry.
I spin around and there it is, the skua: steady and sure and terrifying. Flying low to the ground, with its bulky body and large wingspan it might as well be a jumbo jet heading straight for me. I scream and fall on the ground, my arms above my head in a reflex of self-defence as it skims up and over me and begins another big loop. I scramble to my feet, shaky hands grappling at my camera, snapping randomly. But I am a useless photographer today, swatting the camera away to ensure I can protect myself as the skua turns to dive at me a second time.
I desire this exhilaration, to be momentarily close to such a great creature so full of authority and certainty, nonchalant in its attack to ensure protection of its young. But my mouth is dry and my heart is beating too fast.
The skua doesn’t even bother swooping towards me a third time as I half run, half stumble away, back from where I came.