Terns, Skuas and chimney clouds

I’m expecting to be attacked today. No, I’m not in an inner city, I’m on an island with a population of fewer than 600 people. It’s also an attack I’m expecting from the air.

And here it comes:

Arctic Tern - Westray - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

I’m walking as close to the sea as possible without falling off the cliffs so I’m far away from the Arctic Tern colony. They still see me, just like they see the farmers every day. And they still show curiosity and they still attack if they perceive a threat.

Arctic Tern - Westray - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Thankfully they stop being outraged at my presence as they become outraged with each other.

Arctic Tern - Westray - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

What they should be concentrating on is the Arctic Skua nearby.

Arctic Skua - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

In fact, there are three Arctic Skuas, all adults and all together, with an enduring fascination for the Arctic Tern colony. I wish I could bring an arm chair up here and watch them. They may have been taking an egg or a chick or two and will have been harassing the Terns for fish as they return in triumph from an exhausting time fishing.

It’s behaviour honed and polished over hundreds of thousands of years. Longer than our houses and customs will last. It’s a constantly shifting evolutionary arms-race played out generation after generation, shifting as the behaviours of the survivor descendants shift.

Aikerness - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

At the end of my walk, what’s attacked me is not a Tern but an idea: What’s the point of our day-to-day concerns in the face of time as deep and ritual as ancient as this?

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