PAR­ADISE BIRD

Bird Watching (UK) - - The Directory -

The Arc­tic Tern has an in­com­pa­ra­ble mi­gra­tion, chas­ing the sun from north to south and back again the pointed sil­very wings and tail stream­ers, bird of par­adisal beauty and grace. Sea-swal­low, snow white and river-pearl grey with sheen of ice. In Ital­ian sterna co­dalunga, the tern with the long swal­low-tail, is del­i­cate and stream­lined, res­o­lute shoul­ders plough­ing the air with grace­ful wingflaps across the face of the planet and back, not just once but as many times as the years they live – and they can sur­vive for more than 30 years. As they played over the Sound of Taransay, ethe­real, dainty, adroit fliers feed­ing and div­ing and danc­ing, it was hard to be­lieve the re­lent­less des­tiny of this en­chant­ing fairy­tale se­abird, which dur­ing its life­time makes the ul­ti­mate Odyssey known to cre­ation, vis­it­ing al­most ev­ery shore­line on earth. The Arc­tic Tern is a bird of the light, fly­ing through nine months of per­pet­ual day as it trav­els from north­ern breed­ing grounds in sum­mer – the He­brides among oth­ers – to win­ter on the Antarc­tic coast. If it flew di­rect, it would cover 12,000 miles, the short­est dis­tance be­tween the two poles as the crow flies (not that it does). But the Arc­tic Tern chooses a more com­pli­cated route: birds nest­ing in Ice­land and Green­land make a round-trip of more than 44,000 miles, and birds nest­ing in the Nether­lands 56,000. On av­er­age, a sin­gle Arc­tic Tern will fly 1.5 mil­lion miles in its life­time. There is no com­pa­ra­ble mi­gra­tion, or any­thing even close to it, in the an­i­mal king­dom. Later that week, I stum­bled on the re­mains of an Arc­tic Tern ly­ing on bog moor­land. Just one wing had been left by the preda­tor Han­dling it is to touch the in­tan­gi­ble, some­thing of the stamina and en­durance of these timeless nav­i­ga­tors of the globe. Rosamond Richard­son is an au­thor and jour­nal­ist who also writes for The Coun­try­man, and her Wait­ing for the Al­bino Dun­nock will be pub­lished in spring 2017

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