The Arctic Tern

Sterna Paradisaea is the Arctic tern. This amazing little bird lives around 30 years in the wild and every year completes the longest migration in the world, flying from the Arctic, where it breeds, to the Antarctic to feed. It sees more daylight than any other creature and is not only a great endurance flier but a marvellously agile one, a true aerial acrobat like a marine version of the more familiar swallow. It is also a brave parent, chasing away much bigger animals from it’s ground nesting colonies and braving attacks by skuas and other aerial pirates to feed its young.

UPDATE: A tern tagged in Northumberland, UK was recently recorded having flown at least 60,000 miles in a round trip over the course of a year. Who cannot love a bird that is capable of such extraordinary journeys, powered by nothing more than the metabolism of a bird weighing perhaps 100g?

Arctic tern flying over iceberg in Greenland
Arctic Tern in Greenland.
Photo, used with permission, by the amazing Arctic photographer Carsten Egevang

It has been my privilege and delight to observe these birds while doing fieldwork in Iceland, Svalbard and Greenland. Some years ago while working out of UNIS in Svalbard, I found a desk in an empty office that overlooked a colony. Over 4 short weeks, albeit of continuous daylight, I was able to watch the spectacular aerial courtship displays, the ultra brief matings, the brooding of eggs, the feeding and raising of young and the eventual fledging of new individuals. I had never known I was a nascent birdwatcher before this.

I have decided to start a blog, partly to share my opinions with the world (and thus avoid boring my long-suffering friends), but mainly to improve my writing by preparing short easy to read pieces in an every day style.  I chose the Arctic tern as a symbol of the wide range of subject areas I want to cover. I also like to think that as scientists we are in a constant chasing of the light, and in my field of climate research especially, trying to evade and chase off predators and pirates.

As a scientist, I often feel I am not very good at communicating with non-scientists and I hope this blog will provide me with some good practice and discipline, and of course I hope it will provide you with some interesting diversion. Please feel free to comment and provide feedback.

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