Living in a nature documentary

Brunnich's Guillemots jumping of a cliff
Brunnich’s Guillemots jumping of a cliff

As a biology teacher I often show BBC documentaries to my pupils. Besides the human anatomy and the exact process of photosynthesis, I also think it’s my duty to show my pupils the beauty of nature. It’s not possible to take them everywhere, but through ‘Life’, ‘Planet Earth’ or ‘Frozen Planet’ I can still show the beauty of nature.

Right now, I sometimes have the feeling I live inside a nature documentary. One evening we landed near Alkhornet. Always a nice landing near the end of the cruise with nice tundra, lots of Reindeer and a large Brunnich’s Guillimot colony high on the cliffs. When we visit a place like this we often tell the story of the three-week old chicks who have to jump from the cliffs in order to get enough food with Arctic Foxes and Glaucous Gulls waiting for the unfortunate ones who don’t make it to the sea… However, until this year I had hardly seen any chicks jumping myself. Until this year, as this evening everything came together. We had already been walking for some time on the tundra, watching some Reindeer and an Arctic Fox, when suddenly we saw our first chick glide through the sky. They are only three weeks old when they jump, much smaller as the adult birds and their tiny wings are not big enough to keep them in the air. But fortunately they don’t weight that much, so they can glide for some distance. They’re accompanied by several adults, who now and then give them a little mid-air push so they have a higher chance to make it to the sea. At sea they can’t brake, so they crash-land, bouncing off the water several times before they come to a rest.

However, there were also several unfortunate ones what didn’t make it to the sea. They crash-land on land, tumbling over several times and then run towards the sea. That is, if they aren’t caught by the waiting Arctic Foxes or Glaucous Gulls in the mean time. Especially the foxes can have a large impact as they will just kill any chick they can get and store the ones they can’t eat for later use. When they’ve reached the sea however, they’re still not safe. Here the Glaucous Gulls make use of the moments of chaos to grab a few more chicks from the water.

And here we were standing, on the tundra, near the water watching all of this happen right in front of our own eyes. Only the voice of Sir David Attenborough was missing.

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