Fresh skim ice near the edges of Mendenhall Lake spoke of the temperature as I walked along the shore toward an area of activity. The sun was just starting to peek around Mount Bullard, highlighting the ridges of the Mendenhall Glacier, and the icebergs in the lake.
A rising and falling k-k-krr, k-k-krr sound, punctuated by quick, sharp cries came from the brownish, brushy area that you can see on the right of the photo above. White wings flashed in the light of the rising sun. I picked up the trail to the photo point on a rock outcrop.
An Arctic tern flew by, all business, but so graceful as to remind me of a porcelain sculpture.
A few minutes later I saw a tern flying with a small fish in its beak, swooping and turning to avoid other terns.
The sand spit is cordoned off with a sign that says the terns are nesting, and from the viewing area I can just make out a nesting site. It is just a small dip in the sand occupied by a grey and white bird with a black head. To brighten up the outfit the bird accessorized with brilliant red beak, legs, and feet.
It's mate landed and settled next to the nest.
Nearby a tern brakes in the air, working its wings to hover a few moments while looking down into the water. It flies another fifty feet, hovers again, then dives for a fish. It misses and moves along, stopping in midair, hunting.
It is a pleasure to watch such graceful and athletic birds. These guys aren't just aerobatic, they are also distance fliers. The Arctic tern migrates between the Arctic and Antarctica, flying over forty thousand miles a year, and catching the longest hours of daylight in each region.
So after flying twenty thousand miles in about forty days they show up with every feather perfect. Yep, I'd show up with bad hair and then sleep for a week.
If you want to see Arctic terns then this is a very easy location to view them from. In late May drive to the Mendenhall Glacier parking lot, walk on a paved path for ten minutes, and you are there. To see them in motion is worth it. Their flight is reminiscent of butterflies and swallows, of a kite on the wind, of dancers.
The air warmed slightly, so it was time for a bath....
... and getting prettied up for the day.
This early on a cold morning there are only a few other people at the glacier. Another photographer found a tern perched on an iceberg.
Who do you think has the coldest tush, the kayaker or the tern?
Migratory birds are protected right down to the feather, so when I found a tern feather I just took a photo...
...even though I wanted to pick it up and build it into an art project.
Even a single feather is graceful and elegant. What a delight it was to see the beautiful Arctic tern. I hope that you enjoyed this glimpse of them.
More on Southeast Alaska birds: