Cold sea of the North


Tour to Neocene


19. Cold sea of the North




In Neocene in circulation of Arctic ocean currents there were essential changes. The strait between Northern America and Asia was closed by mountainous isthmus, and break of an isthmus between Northern and South America had caused easing of Gulf Stream because the part of warm Southern Passat current began to leave to Pacific ocean. The turn of Northern America had reduced the area of Arctic ocean, and shift of Asia to the south had resulted to that the Asian coast of this ocean had moved in warmer climatic zone. Gulf Stream had deflected away from the European coast, given up the place to the cold currents flowing to the south. Therefore in Neocene the ocean freezes on the greater space, but by virtue of the climate warming it becomes free of ice faster. Summer in northern latitudes had become warmer, though winter is almost as rigorous, as before.
In spring when ice near Franz Josef land, archipelago at northern coast of Asia, thaw, on littoral zone life boils up. Under beams of the spring sun in shallow waters active growth of brown and green seaweed making the basis of efficiency of shore ecosystems begins. Tapes, plumes and clusters of seaweed are supported floating by large gas bubbles. Seaweed grow fantastic speedy - tens centimeters per day. After devastating storms for few days the vegetation of littoral zone is restored completely. But on coast there is a suffocating stench of the rotten seaweed, involving hundreds the flies laying eggs in these rests.
Below edge of water, among thickets of brown seaweed shell joints of different two-folding molluscs stick up among which massive coat-of-mail shells - piper shellsnails creep. Their creeping sole is covered with thin layer of slime which allows the mollusc to stick tightly to a stone, scratching out by radula microscopic algae. Thickets of seaweed involve hundreds of tiny herbivorous animals - worms, crustaceans and snails. These creatures transform shoots of seaweed to similarity of laces, ruthlessly eating away in them holes and gnawing edges of them. Because of plentiful food they grow and breed, enabling to be fed to other animal. The strange creature squeezes its way through thickets - it is similar to huge insect that moves along the bottom on six arthrous "legs". But the body of this animal consists of huge flat head and the body covered with shell similar to the body of the tiny crocodile. But on the nape of the creature the folded fin sticks up, and on the end of tail there is seen tiny tail fin. Rhythmically moving gills and round eyes show that this creature is the fish. It is the roachgurnard, creeping fish of littoral zone. It practically is not able to swim, but easily moves along the bottom and can even creep out on the coast for hunting insects and crustaceans. The fish slowly bypasses shrubs of seaweed, from time to time overtaking the worm or the crustacean with short throw.
The roachgurnard frightens by the movement another fish: from thickets of seaweed, being unwrapped, the long striped body glides. Pair of spots similar to huge eyes had flashed, and the body had disappeared in thickets. The roachgurnard had frightened away the jawgunnel - one more inhabitant of littoral zone. Having swum away from the restless neighbour, the inactive fish had begun to search for food. Mighty jaws and wide crushing teeth of the gunnel are adapted to feeding by molluscs. Sometimes it can catch the small crab, but nevertheless the basic food of this fish includes snails and shells. The jawgunnel can remain till some hours in a zone of outflow though it prefers to wait this time in shallow littoral pools.
But shore animals at times try to escape on land from ocean waves though their ancestors not for a long time ago had lived in the ocean. On the coast among heaps of rotting seaweed multi-legged creatures, shore roachcrabs run. Reminding huge wood lice, they scurry on the coast, eating larvae of flies developing in rotten seaweed. Sometimes they succeed to find more essential food: cast ashore dead fish or the octopus. Such find attracts tens crustaceans making muddle on it - everyone tries to seize a share and to protect it from other eaters. But they should be more cautious: in pools of sea water danger at times is hidden. The ripple on the pool surface betrays the roachgurnard creeping on the bottom. It is slightly put out from water and its large eyes observe crustaceans, eating the body of large fish. When one of roachcrabs appears too close to edge of the pool, the fast throw follows, and... the roachgurnard eats the roachcrab. It seems, that this strange fish is the owner of cold coast. But it is not so.
In the high sea trumpet shouts are heard, and among ice floes spindle-shaped shadows of three-meter creatures with long beaks slide to coast of islands. Sometimes they jump out of water, as dolphins and seals of Holocene. But they are not dolphins and not seals, they are absolutely not mammal, but birds. In seas of Neocene sea mammals missed owing to ecological crisis of the boundary of Holocene and Neocene, had been replaced by sea birds. When efficiency of sea ecosystems had decreased, rather large sea animals simply could not find enough forage, and had gradually died out. But smaller and quickly breeding birds had taken their place when food situation was stabilized.
This large sea bird is northern gannetwhale. It became one of numerous species of the genus, had inhabited almost all climatic zones of Northern hemisphere and partly expanded to Southern one. At the south its relatives are much smaller, and this species is one of largest ones. Gannetwhales spend winter in the sea, occasionally crawling out on ice floes for rest. But in the spring when ice thaw almost in all ocean, birds come to islands where from year to year many generations of their ancestors had hatched posterity.
Birds swim nearer to coast. Their trumpet shouts drowning roar of waves are even more often audible. Birds come nearer to the ground with each powerful wave of the wings turned to fins. And first birds run the chest into coast of island and on the spot turn from dexterous swimmers to clumsy bumpkins. Pushing by legs and helping themselves by wings, huge creatures crawl out on the coast and try to crawl away from water: neighbours press behind, and the bird having stayed on the coast risks to be crushed by them.
Within several days and nights giant birds have a rest on the coast. But northern summer dictates the conditions - it is very short, and birds should hasten to have time for some warm months to give life to new generation of gannetwhales. And soon in water impressing courtship games of giants are played. Males try to draw attention of females: they rise in water vertically, clapping by flipper wings. Thus they loudly shout, and their voices are audible above the water many kilometers far from this place. Some birds make also others "pas" of courtship ritual: having gathered speed under water, they jump out of water vertically on four meters and more, and then plop down in ocean sideways, lifting clouds of splashes. Females overparticularly swim among displaying males. Occasionally one or two of them stop near especially attractive male and then the male starts to swim around especially nice of them. Achieving favor of chosen female, the male erects the beak to the sky and clicks by it, as if a stork.
And formed pairs of birds crawl out on the coast. On land they continue courtship, cleaning to each other heads and necks - the bird can not clean these places, therefore clearing of them is the mark of trust and favor at sea giants.
In some days first hatching birds appear in colony. Winter not yet finally left from islands: the thin quickly thawing snow sometimes falls, and in the mornings light frosts happen sometimes. But it is not terrible to gannetwhales. Bird hatches an egg in the cup of the turned paws, having covered it with its tail and thigh plicas of skin, swelling during an incubating of egg. The most part of time an egg is hatched by the female, but at some hours the male can substitute her. Transmission of egg from paws to paws occurs very cautiously: birds lay on the coast almost in parallel to each other. The male cautiously clasps an egg by both paws, and then the female as cautiously release its paws one by one. Thus one or both birds necessarily hold the precious egg.
Having left egg under male’s protection, the female crawls to the sea to feed up. And at this time some ones showing unambiguous gastronomic interest to an egg, appear. The large grey bird with hooked beak falls near to the colony of gannetwhales. It is the sea eagleraven - one more summer visitor flying here from the continent. It is the predator, besides it is very clever.
The eagleraven tries to steal up to hatching male behind where the huge beak of giant bird is not threatened to it. But the next female hatching the egg, clicks by the beak literally several centimeters from the tail of predator, and the eagleraven shoots upwards in the sky. Single hunting obviously does not succeed, and it searches for more accessible prey.
The ocean is rich in food, and some its neighbours walk on the littoral zone, searching careless fishes and crustaceans. But this food is not so good: it is too tiny and obviously does not pay back efforts for its searching. Therefore it is more likelihood to find something in the ocean. One of eagleravens flies up above water and flies by further from a coast. And good luck is on its side: "having struck" on waves, it snatches out from water the large fish. Trying to not show the success, the lucky fisher flies low above waves, having pressed the fish to the belly. In the roundabout ways it reaches thickets of polar bushes, where on the ground the massive nest is built. Its female already hatches two eggs, and fresh food to it is just by the way.
Not all eagleravens are successful fishers, but they are very inventive in ways of food getting. So, they are able to share success with other, more successful fishers. When under water the silhouette of the gannetwhale slides, above it some eagleravens gather. Birds wait, while the gannetwhale will emerge. Sometimes they are lucky: the gannetwhale does not swallow catch just in time and then crows by a crowd attack the gannetwhale. They peck bird’s head, forcing it to open a beak and to weaken a bite in the fraction of second. It is enough second delay, and gannetwhale’s catch has got to robbers. On the coast birds arrange noisy sharing of catch, loudly shouting and flapping wings.
Other bird also flying from the continent, does not compete to eagleravens. Its food contains firm-shelled molluscs and crustaceans. This motley bird is the sea shellpecker. Despite of the name, it is the distant relative of eagleravens. But it gets food by the different way: the sea shellpecker pecks shells of invertebrate animals by the strong beak. In outflow sea shellpeckers walk along the littoral zone, digging sand by beaks in searches of the dug snails, crabs and shrimps. Having found catch, the bird drags it in the beak on the coast. There the sea shellpecker sits on the favorite "anvil" stone and by strong pecks crushes catch clasped by toes to the stone. After bird’s meal near the basis of stone new crushed shell has appear. In due course near especially convenient stones big heaps of them have gathered – it is the result of work of many generations of sea shellpeckers.
But not any catch is defenceless to the beak of the sea shellpecker. The piper shellsnail can slowly creep on the stone even if on stones around of it ten sea shellpeckers skip. When the young inexperienced bird tries to peck out or to tear off from the stone this mollusc, it simply splashes out aside an aggressor the jet of slime. Slime literally sticks together jaws of bird, but it is not the most unpleasant effect: slime is badly washed off by water and strongly stings tongue and palate of the sea shellpecker. And instead of feeding the bird is compelled to rinse beak in water, trying even somehow to wash off disgusting "gift" of the mollusc. And the mollusc slowly continues its way on the stone.
Sea shellpeckers are excellent swimmers; therefore in inflow they do not remain hungry. Hunting in inflow even is more successful, because all animals waiting outflow in shelters, now freely crawl on the bottom. Birds dexterously dive into water and swim, having folded wings and pulling by legs. They survey chinks between stones, catch crabs and shrimps crawling on sand. If it is necessary to tear off the snail from the stone, the bird seizes stone by legs and horn heels growing on wings, rests by rigid tail upon it, as if the real woodpecker, and by powerful pecks tears off a snail from stone. Then, having seized it in the beak, the bird simply ceases pulling, and emerges easily, as if a cork. Its feathering contains a lot of air, serving as a float.
The thick layer of hypodermic fat helps to gannetwhales to float in water. It serves as "fur coat" during the swimming in icy cold depths of ocean. Birds catch fishes and octopuses, but also they can turn to prey easily. The creature attacking gannetwhales during their fishing inhabits sea depths. Flat shovel-shaped head and sharp crescent fins are special signs of ruthless predator of depths - the big-eyed shark. Its sensitive eyes sparkle in darkness of ocean, correctly recognizing silhouettes of diving gannetwhales. And widely placed chink-like nostrils precisely allow to define position of catch when sight sense does not help. When gannetwhales pursue shoals of fishes in thickness of water, the shark reaches the position. It is hidden among rocks and when one of birds swims too close, the prompt throw follows. Usually only the bubbles had escaped from lungs of caught bird, tell about the drama which had happened on hundred-meter depth. But some birds nevertheless succeed to escape from the predator due to speed and endurance - the shark can not pursue catch at the long distance, it is created for a throw, but not for the pursuit.
Some birds in colony bear traces of unsuccessful shark attacks: scars and stings. And one female of the gannetwhale has no right paw which had been bitten off by shark. And nevertheless it hatches the egg, using only one remained whole paw. To tell the truth, to hold it is difficult, and it is noticed by eagleravens keeping near to the colony of gannetwhales. Some birds begin attack by classical crow’s script: two birds tease the gannetwhale, provoking it on an attack, and other three birds creep behind and try to roll away an egg from the paw of the gannetwhale. But in the colony it is difficult to make it - neighbours of the gannetwhale, protecting their own eggs, can easily square accounts with feathered robbers. Therefore birds slowly entice the one-pawed gannetwhale from the colony. Step by step, slowly creeping, the bird departs from neighbours, trying to reach impudent eagleravens. It does not notice, that it had left the area under protection of neighbours. And then "getters" start to their part of the plan: they painfully peck and graze the a healthy paw of gannetwhale, and quickly achieve desired result. The egg is got rolled from the paw of the gannetwhale, and it is quickly rolled away aside. The gannetwhale any more does not pay attention to two “jesters”, it tries to set up again an egg on the paw, but already four birds peck it and prevent it to save the egg. The fifth one already sits on the egg and zealously hollows it by beak. At last the shell has bursted, and from eggs the underdeveloped embryo has fallen out. It lags behind in development - the female could not warm an egg on one paw normally. At other birds in some days the posterity will appear, and this nestling if an incubating would proceed, will hatch too late. But the nature has disposed another way. Seeing fate of its egg, the gannetwhale female crawls back to the colony, and eagleravens feast on rare dainties. After them inside eggs few films remain which at night will be destroyed diligently by shore roachcrabs, natural cleaners of the coast.
After one week the beach turns to real "kindergarten": at gannets nestlings were hatched. Large, goose-sized, covered with rich black down, they are incredibly gluttonous and grow very quickly: per day each other grows up on one kilogramm, and rate of growth later is even more accelerated. It is vital: summer is short, and to winter it is necessary to save up fat for the first in life migration in ice-cold ocean. Both parents feed the nestling on some times per day in the beginning by semi-digested catch, and then by whole fishes, octopuses and squids. Among food young big-eyed sharks are presented also: at these fishes in the summer the time of fry birth comes. By the end of summer due to such food the young bird must reach weight about 350 - 400 kg. There is a polar day, and the sun shines all day and night. Heating up the ground, it promotes growth of bushes and grasses. And nestlings of gannetwhales at this time are ready to eat practically round the clock. Rhythms of birds are forced down a little: some birds doze on the coast, others only have woken up, and the third already come back from fishing. The sea looks more greenish: the phytoplancton roughly grows giving food to the zooplancton and fishes - food of gannetwhales and eagleravens.
In the eyrie of the sea eagleraven the nestling grows up: from two – three of them only one survived as usual. Parents feed it with fishes, from time to time trying to hunt more essential catch: sea shellpeckers and nestlings of gannetwhales. But sea shellpeckers are usually hidden from the eagleraven in the nesting holes or among stones. Overtaken above the sea, they simply dive into water and reach the coast swimming. And nestlings of gannetwhales while they are small, can expect only for protection of parents. And they are not leaving without supervision. As a rule, one bird from pair always remains on the coast and is on duty near the nestling. Not sexual matured and old birds also help to protect young growth.
When two eagleravens try to peck the nestling had crawled out from the colony, they meet its vigilant daddy. Crows fly low above the nestling, trying to peck it, but the gannetwhale male does not give them to make it: it nearly forced down one of predators by neatly spat out jet of disgustingly smelling oil. Feathers of the eagleraven are soiled by stinky viscous liquid, and the predator at once loses the greatness. Bypassing the colony sideways, it hastens to the sea - to clean itself thoroughly. Now it does not want to hunt anything for some time. Having remained alone, the second eagleraven tries to attack the nestling, but the second volley, though not so neat, forces it to decide not. The predator departs, left the nestling.
Three months had passed. The first morning frost reminds: an autumn comes, and winter is not far off. The sun already sets down horizon and night takes its part of time. And as whole with night the cold comes back also.
The young growth of gannetwhales had already grown up, the young eagleraven had left the eyrie and now is studying to search for food. The family of sea eagleravens walks at the edge of gannetwhale colony. They are involved with the body of the dead gannetwhale: the young bird had dyed because of exhaustion. The shark has to had eaten its father, and the female could not food the gluttonous nestling alone. Therefore for the sake of preservation of own life it had left the nestling, and it had dyed. When gannetwhales appear little bit further than usual, eagleravens three together drag a body of the gannetwhale nestling away from the colony. The body is light: from under skin of the body literally bones stick out. Meat on the body of dead nestling will suffice to feed three hungry eagleravens, but here it is nothing to wait to the fourth one: when the fourth bird tries to join a meal, it is banished.
Those young gannetwhales has had the luck to survive and to grow up, are fledged and study to swim. Some of them still splash near the coast, being cheering up by shouts of parents, and others already dive and also get to themselves forage though they still are fed up by parents. Young birds clumsily floundering in water draw attention of completely undesirable visitor: the big-eyed shark. The huge fish patrols coast, choosing itself the prey. It tries to be hidden in thickets of the huge brown and green seaweed forming the real underwater wood and by long branches spread on surface of water. Birds have not noticed it, and the young growth continues to practice in diving and swimming. Gradually one family of birds comes nearer to critical distance to thickets of seaweed, and the shark attacks. Having gathered limit speed, the fish puts to the young gannetwhale the terrible wound on the side, and swims away. The shark knows by experience - catch sooner or later will be got to it. The young bird shouts and beats in water, and waves around of it are painted by blood. Its disturbing shouts frighten other birds, and the huge mass of grey-white bodies literally is cast ashore. If there is an opportunity to save from a shark on land, birds act so - it is the most reliable way to be rescued. Parents of the dying gannet hesitate: in them the parental instinct and an instinct of self-preservation struggle. And when their descendant perishes, they direct to the coast after other birds. On waves only lifeless body of the young gannetwhale is rocking. The big-eyed shark emerges from depth and starts to cut by sharp teeth pieces from the carcass. When it was sated, it had remained from the bird body only head and the backbone with one paw. Remains slowly sink in water - at the bottom crabs and sea worms will eat them. The nature does not support wastefulness, and for all in the slightest degree edible the eater always will be founded.
After some weeks island becomes empty. Snow falls even more often, and soon it already covers the ground as fluffy white blanket - till the next spring. Eagleravens and sea shellpeckers fly away to the continent, and gannetwhales all together, for one day go to the ocean. They will spend all winter in zone of floating ice, hunting fishes and molluscs. The youth will grow up, and the next year many birds again will have the luck to return to the native island. And after five years those who will live up to this time, will lay egg at the coast of the cold ocean.
From Arctic ocean the cold current washing coast of Europe originates. It carries plancton and organic substances from polar areas of the Earth to the south. And at the western coast of Europe where cold waters of this current meet warm waters of equatorial currents, the real holiday of life reigns. The ocean is generous, and it shares the gifts even with inhabitants of the land.


Piper shellsnail (Glutinochiton piperinus)
Order: Chitonida
Family: Glutinochitonidae

Coat-of-mail shells (Polyplacophora) represent the characteristic element of littoral fauna of northern seas. Due to the swimming larva they are capable to settle in the new area, therefore after glacier thawing they appeared among the first settlers of shores of new islands. The piper shellsnail is one of new species of Neocene epoch.
Externally the animal differs from the relatives from XX century only a little, growing to length 10 cm. The body at the sight from above seems roundish. The crawling sole is thick, forming the strong sucker. Coloring of shell plates is bright pink, creeping sole is brown with black spots. But because of microscopic algae covering the body of animal, it practically does not differ by coloring from stones on which it is sitting.
The mollusc is hermaphrodite, eggs are incubating in brood pouch, swimming pelagic larvae come out in water.
The way of protection against enemies is original: the animal splashes out sticky liquid which on some time simply sticks together jaws of the enemy. Besides the liquid has strong irritating effect though in general it is safe for animals.

Shore roachcrab (Blattidothea littorale)
Order: Isopoda
Family: Idotheidae

After covering of Arctic ocean islands by the glacier all fauna of polar ground insects had appeared destroyed. After thawing of the glacier exempted islands and new ecological niches had been formed on them partly had been filled by sea animals. The shore roachcrab, the representative of order Isopoda, the descendant of sea cockroach Mesidothea, had developed life in the ebb-tide zone of northern islands; there it breeds in plenty, eating the cast ashore sea animals and seaweed. Among representatives of present order wood lice (Oniscoidea) had became completely ground animals (they live even in deserts!), therefore it is impossible to exclude an opportunity of that any more representatives of this order can develop land habitats, especially in absence of competitors.
The roachcrab is animal of grey-brown coloring, 2 - 3 cm long; it has 8 pairs of walking legs, is capable to run quickly (up to 10 cm per one second) and swim perfectly. This crustacean can stay long time on land - about several days in humid air. The female bears eggs on short abdominal legs, to the moment of larvae hatching it comes in water and hide in seaweed.

Big-eyed shark (Squalophthalmichthys velox)
Order: Squaliformes
Family: Megasqualidae

This large shark of cold waters is the descendant of the spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthius). It is up to 6 meters long, weighs over 700 kg, sometimes up to 900 kg. It is externally similar to the ancestor, but differs by sharpen unpaired fins with small spikes. Tail fin is crescent, the top lobe is larger than bottom one. Eyes are very big (their diameter is up to 15 cm): the fish lives on depth up to 200 meters though for feeding rises in the top layers of water (almost to the surface). The liver is very big (weighs up to 200 - 300 kg), contains a lot of fat, giving good buoyancy to the body. The head is wide, flatted, its width is approximately equal to length up to pectoral fins, nostrils are wide, chink-shaped, located at "corners" of the head. Mouth is large, teeth are almond-shaped with the sharp serrated edges. The body is colored in pale - grey (almost white) color, on back and fins there are some dark-grey irregular-shaped spots.
It feeds by fishes, eats bodies of dead sea animals, hunts gannetwhales diving for the forage.
Diecious (the male is smaller and more graceful than the female) and live-bearing species: once a year the female gives birth to 8 (or more) young sharks up to 50 cm long.

Jawgunnel (Anaricholis conchivorus)
Order: Percoid fishes (Perciformes)
Family: Pholidae

Large snake-looking fish up to 1 meter and more. Belongs to family Pholidae. Its body is eel-looking, back fin is low (about 2/3 of the body height). Head is short-muzzled, jaws are strong; teeth are wide, with several tops, adapted to feed by invertebrates with firm shells. Coloring represents the combination of vertical white, brick-red, brown and black alternating strips and spots forming a little bit irregular pattern. On the tail fin there is large white with black middle false "eye"; the real eye is masked by strips.
Fish lives in coastal zone, can remain on land during outflow (skin breath is well advanced, one pair of branchial arches is modified to air breath organ). Overland fish moves, creeping and partly helping itself by pectoral fins shifted downwards (somactids of pectoral fins are rigid). In case of danger it prefers to hide in seaweed or to be dug in sand. False "eyes" disorient the predator, allowing the seized fish to escape (a body is covered with plentiful slime). In case of an attack the fish can bite strongly.
It spawns at coast, choosing areas not drying up in outflow. The male carries large (3 - 5 mm) eggs on the throat and belly up to hatching of fries. The young growth first some days keeps on the body of the male, eating its slime (such way of care of posterity Amazon fish Symphysodon discus displays now).

Roachgurnard (Triglapterus reptans)
Order: Goblingfishes (Scorpaeniformes)
Family: Triglidae

Original fish of family Triglidae. It is remarkable by the special way of movement: fins are almost reduced, only tail one and prickly part of back one are well advanced. The fish moves with the help of 3 pairs of advanced somactids of pectoral fins working similarly to legs of crayfish or insect. They are so strong, that with their help the fish can creep on land rather not bad. The fish almost does not swim, only in case of danger it can move enough quickly with the help of tail to small distances. Also for protection it can dug itself in sand very quickly. The size of an adult fish is up to 30 cm, the female is larger than male. Head is very large, its size is up to 40 % of fish length. The body is covered with shell of 5 lines of convex osseous plates. Coloring of the body is a combination of grey, yellow and brown spots similarly to the color of environmental landscape. At moving the fish quickly can change color for other areas of bottom from almost white up to black and reddish brown. Eyes are large, yellowish, mouth is inferior with tiny teeth. The back fin serves for submission of signals: it folds between shell plates of sides (the top line of plates begins after the basement of back fin) and is spreading at the meeting of fishes. At males it is red with dark blue border, at females - pink without the border. Each fish lives on the certain area of coast which is protecting against neighbours. Fish eats soft-shelled invertebrates, sometimes it can hunt on the coast during the outflow.
For spawning fishes swim out from the coast and spawn in depths, does not protecting eggs. After spawning adult fishes come back to the coast. The larva with well-developed fins spends in plancton about half-year, further it settles on bottom and turns to fry similar to adult fish.

Gannetwhale (Delphisula grisea)
Order: Pelecaniforms (Pelecaniformes)
Family: Cetornitidae

Picture by Tim Morris

This remarkable huge sea bird (up to 3 meters long and up to 500 kg by weight) is the ecological analogue of seals and small cetaceans. There is the modern species of gannets Sula bassana, which had settled most further to the north (in 1996 birds of this species had started to nest in the White sea) than related species. It lives in colonies of 20 - 40 birds (6 - 15 breeding pairs). An autumn and winter they spend feeding at open ocean, crawling out on ice floes for rest. It comes on islands for breeding in the spring (birds nest once in 2 years).
Coloring of the body is contrast: dark grey top with fine white spots and white bottom with separate black spots. Paws and beak are colored bright red. Across an eye from the beak there lies the black wedge-shaped horizontal strip reaching an ear aperture. Beak is long, on the end it is slightly thicker, edges are covered by small tooth-like overgrowths for keeping of caught fishes. Wings are flipper-like and strong. In water the bird pulls by wings as by fins, on land it uses them as flippers. Paws in water are using as rudders, on land serve for movement (push the body forward). In nesting season the female heats sole egg keeping it by paws. For increasing of incubating efficiency and protection against cold between tail and hips of the female plicas of skin covered with small feathers had formed. At the incubating they are heated up by blood from the numerous vessels transpiercing skin of plicas, forming warm "tent" around egg. Sole egg is very large, pear-shaped, its volume is up to 10 litres.
These birds are monogamous, pair is formed for one season. Pairing happens in water. The male and the female during rearing of posterity keep together, the male feeds hatching female and drives off possible predators. Later both parents feed up the nestling. At the moment of hatching the nestling (covered with thin down) weights about 8 kg, further it puts on weight at first time almost by 1 kg per day (eating 5 - 6 kg of fishes per day), after 3-rd month of life - on 2 kg per day and more. It becomes fully fledged completely to 2-nd month of life. To the moment of leaving in the ocean the young bird weighs up to 400 kg. Sexual maturity comes at the age of 5 years.

"Sea shellpecker" (Picicorvus albiventris)
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Corvidae

Picture by Alexander Smyslov

Bird of corvine family (Corvidae) living at seashore. It is brightly colored: head is black; straight and strong beak is dark red with the white basis, stomach is white, wings and tail are greyish-blue. Feathers of tail are very dense and rigid. Legs are short and colored reddish-pink; on every toe there is skinny frill (as at birds of order Podicipitiformes), allowing to move under water. Coccygeal gland is strongly advanced, due to it the feathering of this bird is not moistened with water. On the bend of wing there is horn hooked spur. The voice is similar to magpie shout, courtship call - single loud staccato cries.
The bird eats sea firm-shelled invertebrates (snails, bivalves, sea acorns, crayfishes and crabs) diving for it into water. Under water the bird grips by legs and wing spurs for stones, and by strong pecks tears snail off from stones, or cracks it right under water. On the coast birds have favorite places ("anvils"), where they peck invertebrates. Near such stones it is possible to see little heaps of splinters of shells and crusts. Sometimes birds search boring molluscs and worms in pieces of floating wood.
Birds spend summer on islands, to winter they migrate to ocean coast, comes to river mouths where in winter time eat cast ashore fishes and sea animals. If in rigorous winter the coast freezes, birds of present species undertake long flights up to borders of ice.
It breeds on northern islands where there are no ground four-footed predators. The male calls the female, sitting on "anvil". The formed pair digs a hole under bushes and rears there 2 - 3 nestlings. Nestlings are featherless and blind, become fully fledged and begin to see to 2-nd week of life, leave the nest at the age of 2 months. Birds become sexually mature at 1-st year of life, life duration is up to 10 - 15 years.

Sea eagleraven (Aquillorax maritimus)
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Carnocorvidae

The relative of the wood eagleraven adapted for the feeding by seafood. It differs by larger size (length of the body is up to 120 cm, wingspan is up to 2,5 m, weight - up to 9 kg). Coloring is lighter, than at the wood neighbour: head is lead-colored, body is greyish - white, on wings there are short black strokes. Legs are longer, than at wood neighbours, claws are jagged from the inside. Beak is black with white tip, under the beak there is the area of featherless skin of bluish-grey color, eyes are black with rings of featherless skin of blue color. The voice is similar to strong cough, courtship cry – drawn-out trumpet sounds.
Sea eagleraven eats sea animals, can catch fishes from water surface (it is similar to osprey Pandion haliaetus and to African fish eagle Haliaeetus vocifer). Bird often eats carrion (it looks for it from height) and at an opportunity attacks nestlings of gannetwhales.
It keeps by pairs or groups of 5 - 9 birds, near large catch it can gathers to flights up to 20 birds. Nest is building on rocky areas of island in middle of spring of branches and cast ashore pieces of wood; litter is made of grass and dry seaweed. Present species is monogamous one, pairs are kept a long time: some seasons, sometimes up to the end of life. The male courts to the female walking around of it with highly risen head, "bows", utters breeding appeal. The joined pair of birds mutually cleans and feeds each other, searches for catch together. In clutch there are 2 eggs. Hatching lasts about 40 days. Nestlings are blind, covered with black down. They begin to see at 10-th day, completely become fledged by 6-th week of life. Young birds leave nest at the age of 3 months, up to the end of summer they keep with parents. Sexual maturity comes at the age of 3 years, life duration is till 50 years.
This is the migrating bird, spending spring, summer and an early autumn on northern islands, to winter it migrates to the south to large lakes and rivers. On flights this species forms congestions up to 40 - 50 birds.


Main page of the project