Arctic Terns

By Greg Went

Paddling the big lake. The winds are calm today so my nervousness about being on such a big
body of water so far from shore is at a low ebb. I know that if we pay attention to the weather we
can easily make it to shore. If we move at the first sign of the wind picking up.

As we were paddling down the length of the lake, we started passing small islands that were
barely above the surface of the lake. They were really mostly boulder piles rising just a meter or
two above the water level. Too small to be anything but bookmarks on our travels. But as we got
closer to one of the bigger islands we raised a ruckus among a nesting seabird colony. Arctic
terns. They were raising young there. As far as I could tell the nest site was a good choice. The
islands were way too far out into the lake for wolves, foxes, or bears to swim to. The arctic tern
young would be safe there from all predators with the exception of seagulls. Given that no place
is ever safe from gulls, the island was probably the best choice possible.

We tried not to paddle too close to the island. Arctic tern parents have enough trouble raising a
brood without these strange interlopers appearing from the mists so close to their island. Even as
we angled away to put more distance between us and the island, the parents started to dive bomb
us. We meant no harm, but their idea of what constituted a safe distance away from their young
was obviously much greater than our idea of a safe distance. We moved away and calm soon
returned to the colony.

That evening as we pondered the experience we knew that the arctic terns had completed their
journey north. However, they were only fifty per cent done with their yearly travels. They still
had a similar journey in distance going south that awaited them after their brood was raised. It is
the longest round-trip migration on the planet. Almost pole to pole. Beyond our ability to
comprehend. It exceeds anything that any other species on the planet goes through. Who were
we to add further complications to their yearly struggle to raise young?
So we didn’t.

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