Arctic terns, their overland migration

This 8 October 2018 video says about itself:

The Arctic Tern, the longest known migration known in the animal kingdom.

It was long believed that Arctic terns flew about 22,000 miles (35,200 km) on their journey from the Arctic region to Antarctica and back. Recent studies, however, revealed that the birds actually fly much farther.

Tiny instruments called geolocators were attached to a number of birds. About the weight of a paper clip, these amazing devices revealed that some terns flew an average of 56,000 miles (90,000 km) on the round-trip—the longest animal migration known. One bird flew nearly 60,000 miles (96,000 km)!

Why the revised estimates? No matter where they began their migration, the Arctic terns flew an indirect route. As shown in the illustration, a common Atlantic Ocean route took an S shape. The reason? The birds simply take advantage of prevailing wind systems. During their lifetime of about 30 years, terns may travel well over 1.5 million miles (2.4 million km). That is equal to three or four round-trips to the moon!

“This is a mind-boggling achievement for a bird of just over 100 grams [3.5 ounces]”, said a researcher. What is more, because Arctic terns experience the summers at both poles, they see “more daylight each year than any other creature”, states the book Life on Earth: A Natural History.

From Newcastle University in England:

Overland migration of Arctic Terns revealed

March 25, 2019

Data from a landmark study of the world’s longest migrating seabird reveals how overland migration is an integral part of their amazing journey.

Analysing the data from electronic tags retrieved from 47 Arctic Terns, the Newcastle University-led team has been able to characterise in unprecedented detail the route and stop-off points during this record-breaking bird’s 90,000 km annual migration.

This includes:

  • An 8,000km, 24-day, non-stop flight over the Indian Ocean, feeding on the move
  • An overland detour from the Farne Irelands to the Irish Sea and over Ireland to the Atlantic
  • A short stay on the New Zealand coast before completing the final leg of their journey
  • A stop-off at Llangorse Lake, in the Brecon Beacons National Park, during their return journey in the spring

Led by scientists at Newcastle University, UK, in collaboration with BBC’s Springwatch and The National Trust, 53 adult birds nesting on the Farne Islands off the Northumberland coast were fitted with geolocators over a three year period.

Weighing just over 100 g the Arctic Tern has the longest migration of any bird, travelling all the way to Antarctica for the winter and back to the Farnes, which are owned and managed by the National Trust, to breed in the spring.

So far, 47 tags have been retrieved and the research team, led by Dr Chris Redfern of Newcastle University, are starting to analyse the data.

“Technology is revealing details of the movement and behaviour of these amazing birds in unprecedented detail”, says Dr Redfern, whose initial findings in collaboration with Dr Richard Bevan are published today in the academic journal Ibis.

Arctic Terns feed on surface fish and other marine animals so it has always been assumed they would migrate via a coastal route, down the North Sea and through the English Channel.

“But instead our data has shown their regular route is to travel overland across the UK to the Irish Sea and some are going even further crossing Ireland to the North Atlantic.”

After that, it’s a long hard trek south, down the coast of West Africa and then out across the Indian Ocean.

“Our data suggests their flight over the Indian Ocean is an 8,000 km long haul without a break, probably feeding on the move,” says Dr Redfern. “For a bird that weighs less than an iPhone, that’s an amazing feat.

“Many of the terns have gone even further, ending up around New Zealand before turning south towards the East Antarctic, finally arriving four months after leaving Northumberland.

“The scale of their migratory journey across featureless oceans is breath-taking! In that context, the UK land mass between the Irish Sea and the Farne Islands must be no obstacle at all to an Arctic Tern and the quickest route to their breeding colony.”

The data also highlights key stop-off points off the coast of Lancashire and Wales in April and May as the terns make their way back to the Farne Islands to breed. Dr Redfern, who carried out the study with Dr Richard Bevan and the Natural History Society of Northumbria, said the detailed picture of Arctic Tern migration patterns would help with future conservation efforts.

“Understanding their behaviour in detail means we can start to build a picture of which areas are important feeding and breeding grounds.”

Longest flight ever recorded

More than two thousand pairs of Arctic Terns breed on the Farne Islands. Sitting two miles off the coast of Northumberland, the islands are home to 87,000 pairs of seabird, including Puffin, Eider Duck and Shag. The National Trust has cared for the Farne Islands since 1925.

Previous studies have shown these birds are likely to return each year to the same few square metres of ground, making it an ideal environment to carry out year-to-year tracking studies with geolocators.

Earlier data from the study, featured on BBC Springwatch in 2016, showed that one bird had flown an estimated 96,000km (almost 60,000 miles) from its breeding grounds on the Farne Islands to its winter quarters in Antarctica.

  • The bird started its migration on 25/7/2015 reaching the tip of South Africa by 25/8/2015
  • It then moved into the Indian Ocean where it spent nearly all of October (7/10/2015-31/10/2015; 1st staging area — 35.4 S, 71.9 E)
  • After this it moved to its second staging area (60.6 S, 70.1 E) on the coast of Antarctica (3/11/2015 — 15/11/2015)
  • It then slowly made its way along the edge of the Antarctic continent until eventually ending up in the Weddell Sea (3/2/2016) where it stayed until 23/3/2016 (3rd staging area — 69.6 S, 25.3 W)
  • Finally, it moved up to the tip of South Africa (4/4/2016) and made its way along the west coast of Africa and arrived in the Farne Islands’ area 4/5/2015

Over its lifetime the record-breaking tern could be flying as far as 3 million km between the Farne Islands and Antarctica, the equivalent of nearly four trips to the moon and back.


Rudolph the red list reindeer

This 2017 video is called Reindeer – A Day in the Life – Stories for Kids.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Rudolf the red list reindeer

PETER FROST says, whatever President Trump might say, climate change has reduced Arctic reindeer herds by more than half

JUST as I was getting ready to celebrate my atheist Christmas I heard some awful news.

Climate change over the last 20 years has more than halved the world population of wild reindeer (Rangifer tarandus).

Exactly the same species is known as caribou in North America, but they are doing just as badly, says a new scientific report.

Numbers of reindeer have fallen from almost five million to around 2.1 million and the shrinking in numbers continues at a frightening pace.

President Donald Trump will no doubt cry “fake news”, but he’ll be hopping mad when he learns the body that did the research and issued the new report is based in Washington, just a few minutes sleigh ride from the White House.

The new report on the impact of climate change in the Arctic was released at the American Geophysical Research Union (AGU) meeting this month.

The AGU is a not-for-profit organisation bringing together over 62,000 geophysicists from 144 countries.

AGU activities are focused on the organisation and dissemination of scientific information in the international field of geophysics — that is, atmospheric and ocean science, solid-earth science, hydrologic sciences and space science.

This latest AGU report reveals that weather patterns and vegetation changes are making the Arctic tundra a much less hospitable place for reindeer.

Some herds have shrunk by more than 90 per cent — “such drastic declines that recovery isn’t in sight,” says the Arctic Report Card that forms a key part of the new report. The report has discovered multiple reasons why a warmer Arctic is worse for reindeer.

Professor Howard Epstein, an environmental scientist from the University of Virginia, who was one of the many scientists involved in the research behind the Arctic Report Card, told the world media that warming in the region showed no signs of abating.

“We see increased drought in some areas due to climate warming and the warming itself leads to a change of vegetation. The lichen that the caribou like to eat grows at the ground level. Warming means other, taller vegetation is growing and the lichen are being out-competed.”

Another major factor is the number of insects. “Warmer climates just mean more bugs in the Arctic,” said Prof Epstein. “It’s said that a nice day for people is a lousy day for caribou.

“If it’s warm and not very windy, the insects are oppressive and the reindeer spend so much energy either getting the bugs off of them or finding places where they can hide from insects.”

Increased rainfall in the Arctic, often falling on snowy ground, leads to hard, frozen icy layers covering the grazing tundra. Reindeer simply cannot push their noses through the ice sheet to reach their food.

Real scientists — not the oil industry apologists that Trump wheels out on occasions — say the growing evidence suggests warming in the Arctic will continue.

“In all the years of publishing the report card, we see the persistence of the warming continuing to mount,” said Emily Osborne, Arctic research programme manager for the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa), “and this is contributing to extreme weather events elsewhere in the world.”

Some other key points from the report included:

Plastic pollution. Tiny microplastic contamination is on the rise in the Arctic just as it is in all oceans, posing a threat to seabirds and marine life that can ingest debris.

Air temperature. For the past five years (2014-18) temperatures have exceeded all previous records since 1900.

Sea ice thinning. In 2018, Arctic sea ice remained younger, thinner, and covered less area than in the past.

Toxic blooms. Warming Arctic Ocean conditions are coinciding with an expansion of harmful algal blooms in the ocean, which threaten food sources.

AGU scientists have also discovered that east Antarctica’s glaciers have begun to wake up in response to warming — clear evidence of unprecedented climate-driven change at both of our planet’s poles.

Meanwhile Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer lives on as part of our Christmas celebrations. How long will it be before reindeer are only a ancient memory on Christmas cards?

Rudolph was invented as part of a sales campaign by US department store chain Montgomery Ward. A US adman created him in 1939. Santa’s red coat was also invented by another US adman to promote Coca-Cola in December 1931.

Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen are Santa’s other reindeer and they first appeared in
the 1823 poem A Visit from St Nicholas. Rudolf didn’t feature in this poem.

The story of a bearded old man flying around the world delivering gifts is strange, but not as strange as the real origins of flying reindeer which are pictured on northern standing stones, some thousands of years old.

Ancient shamans knew the hallucinogenic properties of fly agaric mushrooms (Amanita muscaria) to give wonderful dreams and visions and sometimes the impression that you could fly.

Sadly the mushroom was very poisonous, so in order to get the wonderful effects they fed the bright red and white spotted fungus to their reindeer and then drank their urine to enjoy the hallucinogenic properties.

In primitive tribes the time of the winter solstice was the time you would know if your food and fuel stocks would last to the spring. If the stock were sufficient the tribe could celebrate and so many festivals came into being.

So however you mark the winter solstice, be it Christmas, Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, Alban Arthan, Dong Zhi, Korochun, St Julia’s Day, Yuletide or any of the dozens of other ways people celebrate this time of the year all around the globe, enjoy it.

Join with me, pour yourself a glass of your favourite tipple, be it mulled wine, reindeer pee or anything else and have a seasonal drink. Merry Christmas!

Birdwatching in the Arctic, video

This 9 November 2018 video from Alaska says about itself:

Young Birders Event: Expedition Arctic – Andy

A mission to film the rare McKay’s Bunting dropped former Young Birder, Andy Johnson, on St. Matthew island in the Arctic. He was left there for a month and now, for the first time, tells the story of the incredible diversity of bird life he found there.

Climate change may have made the Arctic deadlier for baby shorebirds: here.

Musk oxen in the Arctic, video

This 31 July 2018 video says about itself:

Watch Musk Ox Battle One of the Harshest Climates on the Planet | Short Film Showcase

High in the frozen Arctic, musk oxen have been roaming the tundra for thousands of years. Their long, shaggy hair makes them well-adapted to the frigid climate as they roam the tundra in search of roots, mosses, and lichens.

Over 100 bowhead whales seen in Arctic ocean

This January 2018 video is called Ice Giants [Bowhead Whale Documentary].

From Wageningen University in the Netherlands:

At least 100 Bowhead whales sighted in the East Greenland Sea

June 12, 2018

Scientists of Wageningen Marine Research have just returned from the Arctic after a successful expedition organised by Oceanwide Expeditions, Inezia Tours & Natuurpunt. During the spring, whilst working in the Greenland Sea to the Southwest of Spitsbergen, the scientists discovered a group of at least 100 foraging bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus). This is a rare and endangered whale which is believed to be almost extinct and is consequently classed as ‘Critically Endangered’ according to the IUCN.

For some years scientists from Wageningen Marine Research have worked as expedition guides on board the expedition vessel Plancius from Oceanwide Expeditions. Since 2015, increasing numbers of bowhead whales have been observed on the edge of the pack-ice off East Greenland during these expeditions, but this year all previous numbers were exceeded. On the 1st June 2018, during almost 7 hours steaming along the pack ice, a total of 104-114 bowhead whales were systematically counted.

The bowhead whale is well adapted to live in the Arctic and is therefore the only large whale that can survive year-round in this extreme climate and specifically along the pack-ice. The sub-population of bowhead whales in the area of Spitsbergen/Greenland Sea has been greatly reduced since the whaling operations from the 16th century [on] and consequently this subpopulation, which is estimated to number ‘several hundreds of whales’ is now listed as Critically Endangered on the Red List of the IUCN.

In 2015, during a similar expedition, a total of 90 bowhead whales were recorded. It became immediately clear to the scientists that this type of data has an important scientific value as so little is currently known about this species that occurs in the Greenland Sea. The data indicate that the bowhead whales gather along the pack-ice during May/June. Old whaling data from the 16th century onwards highlight that the whales were hunted in the waters to the northwest of Spitsbergen (in April/May) and migrated south-westward by late spring (adult males and females without calves), while others moved north from Spitsbergen into the receding pack ice. Acoustic data has recently shown that during the winter months the bowhead whales occur further north off West Spitsbergen.

The bowhead whales were intensively hunted from the 16th century onwards for several hundred years and the various subpopulations that occur in the Arctic have yet to recover. Added to this the species’ very survival is now under threat from climate change. Even though it appears that the Spitsbergen sub-population may be larger than previously assumed, continued international research is still very necessary. In spite of the exceptional numbers of Bowhead whales encountered by the scientists this spring it is clear that this long-lived whale continues to be on the brink of extinction.