Autumn. Fall. Herbst. Jesień. Probably the least favourite season of all. Some say, it allows us to slow down, but it actually forces us to. Flu and cold puts us in bed whether we like it or not. Outside bed, autumn make people acting in a strange way. Some will say, that finally, cosy and warm, oversize sweaters matched with rubber boots are hitting the streets. Mittens, gloves and scarfs are sold in the booths and out on the streets, swinging on the racks, in a dark melancholy. The regular coffee must now be a pumpkin-spice latte. And if you realised that christmas decorations are displayed in the shops, it only means, that it is mid-October (no, you didn’t sleep through the autumn).
In the same time, in parallel universe, an enormous nation is preparing to dangerous and exhausting trip. Hopefully, the supplies they gathered over last couple of weeks will be enough for a safe transit. But only a foolish optimist would say, there will be no victims. A sky is darkening every day a little bit earlier and there is no time to waste. Ahead thousands of kilometers, they need to move.
All around the world hundreds of millions of birds perform two seasonal migrations – in spring they fly towards their breeding sites, they find a partner, they nest, they raise their offspring and when all that is done, the time for the second migration comes, back to the place, where they can spend a winter, restore, change a worn-out plumage, eat up.
In the Arctic the birds have to migrate before the time of total darkness arrives. Polar night, a time when the Sun stays below the horizon 24 hours a day, does not make the cold arctic islands any cosier. During the summer, when the temperatures rise above the freezing point, the rocks, cliffs, sky and sea are packed with seabirds coming here for just a couple of weeks, to mate and raise the chicks. Why would the birds travel hundreds of kilometers to reach that dry and bare coasts every year?
Some entrepreneurs from over a century ago knew the answer already back then. Expeditions to the Arctic in XIX century revealed that the freezing arctic waters are full of life. The information about hundreds of whales and seals was not ignored and for many years whaling in the Arctic was bringing fortunes. Whaling stopped paying off when virtually all the whales were gone. The history gives us a clue, why this region is so attractive to the wildlife. There is enough of food for several thousands of whales, hundreds of thousands of seals and millions of birds, and it seems that a competition between consumers is not the biggest issue. Zooplankton, benthic (associated with the seabed) fauna, fish – to mention few elements supporting the arctic marine food web.
The price for abundant food is a long migration and harsh conditions during extremely short summer. The arctic summer doesn’t give second chances. If for some reason the breeding period is shifted, delayed, there won’t be enough time for the chicks to become independent and the whole parental effort will perish and there won’t be time to start all over again, until the next year. But for now, the winter is coming, and it’s time to hit the road.