The terns were waiting for me. It had been a year, and they'd had plenty of time to nurse their sense of outrage over the many times I sauntered along the edge of their nesting grounds, photographing them in dramatic wide angles as they dive-bombed me again and again.
Now it was payback time.
After an entire day's flying from Reykjavik through Oslo and Tromso and finally into Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen's sole population center, I was shattered. But a restorative walks seemed in order. So after a medicinal beer, I walked along the Isfjorden shore.
Arctic terns have migrated thousands of miles to nest of these barren shores, but it seems a poorly chosen spot, the only site of human activity in a thousand kilometers. But here they are, in the Polar Institute parking lot, by the boat rental shop, beside the sled dog yard, dive bombing any passerby with a ferocious maternal defensiveness.
I walked along, bathed in the warm glow are the arctic midnight sun, and was happy to see my old friends, their graceful swept back wings, the scree-scree call. Walking along the pavement, I wandered too close for their comfort. One tern fluttered for a moment, then dove and delivered a little pink payload of contempt, directly into my left eye.
I staggered, swearing and laughing in equal measure, trying to get the tern poo out of my eye, managing only to smear it all over my hands and face even more. I've never actually heard a Tern laugh before, but if this one had pants, he would have peed them.
After that it was like a some sick walk of shame, little showers of pink and white dropping from the skies as I made my way grimly down the road.
I read somewhere that having a bird crap on your head is good luck. If that's the case, by the evening's end I felt truly blessed indeed.
July 31, 2009 - Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen Island