I hadn’t expected arctic terns this summer. Then Aki and I drove out to Mendenhall Lake. Until the Alaska weather rose to speed up the Mendenhall Glacier’s melt rate, the terns had little trouble feeding and raising their families. But now they get flooded out.
They are tough dudes too. I once watch a tern chase an adult bald eagle across the face of the glacier while pulling at the eagle’s tail feathers. Terns are also beautiful, with crisp lines and bright orange and black trim. You have to keep your distance from them when canoeing on any water. They dive toward the heads of humans who paddle too close.
For the past several summers, glacier melt has roared into the lake and raised the height of the lake water, flooding parts of the human trail and completely covering over the tern nests. It seems to get worse every year. Last summer I just assumed that the terns would never return. But on this damp May day, I am pleasantly surprised by the number of terns that that have once again flown 9000 miles from South America to hatch their eggs on the edge of Mendenhall Lake.