Sunday, 9 August 2015

The Churchill Maternity Ward

     For the past two months I have been privileged to work at Churchill, Manitoba. As I wander around this seemingly desolate and chilly place, I notice an amazing array of new life happening. Babies are emerging from their dens, nests, gravel bars and the deep, cold waters. Doting and protective parents are busy sheparding, feeding, protecting and teaching helpless youngsters. These youngsters come in all sizes, shapes and colours. They are tiny to large; some cute, some "cuteugly", the kind that only a mother could love and protect.
     Regardless, all have to mature quickly in preparation for approaching harsh winter. Most will take on the winter challenge by migrating various distances.
     I have been watching an Arctic Tern family brood their egg on the gravel slope of an abandoned railway road beside one of thousands of ponds in the region. I found the nest by walking too near and being viciously attacked by two angry adult terns, then the whole tern neighbourhood turned up to chase me off. My hat protected my head but droplets of blood appeared on my camera trigger-finger. Pretty intense for a few moments for all of us. Over the next couple weeks I watched from a respectful distance to finally witness the hatchling hiding amongst sparse grass dependant upon grey spotted camouflage and very excitable parents to protect it from predators such as wandering humans, dogs, gulls, ravens and foxes.
Arctic Tern with Hungry Baby
   It made it out to a flat rock surrounded by water which lessened the danger by about half. I wonder if it swam or was carried out by a parent?
Arctic Tern with Capelin

     While perched on this barren rock for the next couple weeks, both parents hauled fish after fish to the ever hungry little bird. They coaxed it to eat, they oriented the fish to the correct head-first swallowing position, I watched daily to see any progress knowing that time is running short.
Arctic Tern Feeding Baby

For some time, it did not seem to be advancing but then I saw new feathers emerging rather quickly, flight feathers and adult looking plumage now adorns the baby. Mom and Dad are now trying to teach it to fly and catch its own food. By early September, the tern family will begin the longest migration of all wildlife on earth. They will fly a convoluted route to Antarctica, a distance of some 30,000 kilometers.  I think it will make it. Isn't Mother Nature amazing?
Cuteugly Gull Babies

     This tern family is not alone in the two acre pond. Herring gulls have hatched their fuzzy chicks and they are growing rapidly. Green-winged teal babies are scurrying everywhere, How do they know to dabble rather than dive?
Protective Herring Gull
     Phalaropes, and shorebirds bob rapidly for hidden meaty treasures along the muddy shoreline. Canada Geese herd their families over grassy taiga while Sandhill Cranes peck dropped grain from the railroad track bed. Snow geese have now began to drop onto the mudflats of the inter-tidal zone of the Churchill River estuary along with thousands of Canada geese. There is the worry that geese are eating themselves out of house and home in the north, damaging their own habitat to the point that many will starve to death.
     Tundra swans and their four cygnets have been seen on one of the many ponds near town. Warblers, swallows and sparrows wage a losing battle at mosquito population control.
Tundra Swan Family

     In the river estuary, thousands of Beluga whales have had and are raising their grey coloured babies where the water is warmer than in the open Bay. They are also here to feed upon spawning Capelin, a skinny, sardine sized fish. The baby whale is about five or six feet long and weighs around 150 pounds when born.
Beluga Whales

     Also wandering around the town fringes are polar bears with their youngsters never far from mother's protection. The cubs were born in late November and have already made their first trip out onto the ice. Now they lounge around the beach feeding off mother bears rich milk gleaned from her fat reserves until they can head back to the ice in October or November to catch seals.
Nursing Polar Bear

     The northern regions of Canada are a giant maternity ward. Millions of birds fly here to raise new families annually. If I was a bird, why would I fly all this way when I could raise a family in southern Canada instead? Apparently their success ratio of raising young is much higher in the north due to fewer predators.
     What a fantastic world Mother Nature has designed.

1 comment:

  1. .......actually,Bob,its not mother nature that has designed all this,it is Father God.Could'nt resist getting in a Bible lesson, Bob.