Tour to Neocene


89. Year of the Traveler Goose



This chapter is based on the work of Nick, a forum member.
Translated by João Coutinho

In the Neocene, the Arctic Ocean changed like its counterpart, the Antarctica. The warm equatorial Gulf Stream current deviated from the shores of Europe, softening the climate of Greenland, and the cold Antigulf Stream took its place near the European coast. Asia shifted slightly south and merged with North America, forming the vast Beringian Ishthmus. As a result, the Arctic Ocean has lost its connection with the Pacific Ocean and the currents in it can only move in one direction, forming a huge loop along the coasts of North America and Eurasia and gradually giving off their heat to the land. As a result, it became somewhat colder near the coast of Eurasia, and an ice mass formed in the center of the ocean, affecting the climate of the northern coast of the continent.
The shift of the Gulf Stream has affected the climate of the islands of the Arctic Archipelago: here summer has became slightly milder, spring has become earlier, and autumn has become longer and warmer. On Baffin Island, the sea began to free from ice faster and the snow began to melt. And at this time, a new year begins in the life of the traveler goose – one of the birds living on this island.


The sun stays over the horizon longer and longer, and patches of land have finally appeared near the group of rocks. The sun is low on the horizon even at noon, but the surface of the rock is turned directly towards it, and the rays fall on it at almost straight down. During the day, the rock heats up noticeably, gradually giving off its heat to the surrounding ground, and the snow melts around it. Here, the young grass is already breaking through the ground – seeds, rhizomes and bulbs of herbaceous plants revive in the upper layer of the hungry tundra soil. The growing season in these places is quite short, and plants have to start their growth early in order to have time to produce seeds and accumulate enough nutrients before the sun goes away and snow, which does not melt for more than half a year, falls on the ground. The sun heats the surface of the stones, and the plants snuggled in the ground between them gradually come to life. Buds swell, the first tender leaves unfold, and among them the primordii of flower buds are already visible. Plants are preparing to bloom without wasting time, and their flowers will open as soon as the sun will warm the ground up for a longer time. The plants look fragile and delicate, but they are surprisingly hardy. Frosts may return, and gloomy clouds will cover this delicate greenery with snow more than once. However, frost and snow will not harm the plants of the north, and the northern tundra will turn to the carpet of low-growing grasses with spots of bright flowers very soon.
The shadow of a small beast, resembling a fox with short rounded ears, slithered from the loose snow to the surface of the stone. This is a young keelut – a local predator of the canid family. He is still young: he is a yearling who has left the family group recently and has never taken part in reproduction yet. He had spent his childhood in the parental clan – first as a cub under the care of his mother and older siblings, and then as an elder brother for a new brood of cubs. He took part in the clan’s hunts, caught small prey and dragged it to the family nest, where a significant part of the prey went to his mother, who was caring for the next brood. He also saw how his older brothers and sisters simply did not return from hunting, and their smell in the nest gradually weakened, and then completely disappeared after the next change of litter in the den. They did not die – when hunting, the young keelut stumbled upon traces with a familiar smell and saw silhouettes of relatives in the distance. It is a usual order of things: grown-up kids left their parents and began an independent life. Last year, after the birth of another litter to his mother, relations in his native clan became too tense. His younger brothers and sisters grew up and began to claim prey and burrows, and this keelut had to snarl at them more and more often, asserting his rights to rest and prey. Gradually, he began to linger longer and longer on the prowl, and then just set up his own lair on the edge of his parental territory, where he had some rest from tense family relationships. And when the snow began to melt, he finally left the clan, setting off in search of a new territory for independent living.
The beast clung to the surface of the stone heated by the meager rays of the sun, absorbing the heat with his winter fur, which had not yet begun to shed. However, the mammal should not lose its vigilance: predators are found here, representing a danger to him. Therefore, the keelut does not close his eyes, and his ears move and catch the sounds of the world around – both prey and the predator can appear from any direction.
It seems that the spring warmth attracted not only the keelut here: the predator saw a hare on the thawed patch. The mammal fed on young grass, and hunger seemed to take precedence over caution. The keelut, with his white fur, does not stand out too much against the background of stones: from afar, he looks like a cap of unmelted snow. But the hare’s winter fur against the background of the earth and the first stunted growth of grass betrayed the animal. The smell of prey reaches the nose of the predator, and the keelut, without changing his position, begins to trace the hare. Unaware of the presence of a predator, the animal nibbles the young grass. Sometimes, it’s so engaged in this activity that even its long ears do not move when it eats – the hare is clearly sure that there are no predators nearby. But the hunt had already begun: the keelut carefully tightened his hind legs under the body, and his body tensed, preparing for the attack. The smell of prey tickled his nostrils pleasantly, and the eyes of the predator clearly saw the white silhouette of a hare against the background of melted snow and black soil. And at that moment, when the hare reached for the next blade of grass, the keelut rushed forward and grabbed the careless prey. His jaws closed on the neck of the hare, the predator shook it fiercely, and the body of the prey stopped struggling in his teeth. For the first time in a week, he was truly lucky: before that, his prey consisted only of small murine rodents, which only whetted his appetite, but practically did not satisfy his hunger. And now he had got a real prey, which is worth the effort spent on its capture. The keelut’s teeth sank into warm meat, and the wind carried away shreds of the hare’s white winter fur.
The nature of the North gradually comes out of its winter sleep. The ice had already cracked on the sea, and the current carried it away from the shore. And now in the waves the smooth backs of large marine inhabitants, more like dolphins of the human era, are seen. These backs are gray in color with small black and white speckles. When these marine inhabitants emerge from the water, their long beaks become visible, and clouds of steam from the nostrils rise into the air. They head straight for the shore, and the waves of the surf carry them right onto the pebble beach. These are not dolphins, not cetaceans, and not mammals at all: clumsy gannetwhales get out on the shore, pushing off with their flippers. They spent the winter on the high seas, keeping away from solid ice masses, where it is impossible to find vents for breathing. Their trumpet calls resound far in the air. These birds gather on the shore to breed, and this is a very difficult task for such giants. They will have to incubate the egg on their feet, warming it with their swimming membranes and covering it with a fold of skin that connects the legs and tail. On the shore, these birds turn out to be clumsy and slow, but their huge beaks, armed with tooth-like outgrowths along the edges, can drive even a large predator away from the colony.
The keelut walks next to these birds, sniffing and looking around. He had not yet seen such birds, because he never hunted so far from home. The adult gannetwhales are too large for him to attack. However, his presence disturbs these birds. They scream and snap their beaks, and one of them even crawled in his direction, raking pebbles with its wings – strong, but not suitable for flight at all. The keelut noticed this movement and quickly ran aside. Seeing this, the bird considered its task completed and lay down on the beach, raising its head from time to time and vocalizing. However, the keelut did not leave this place – he continued to walk through the flock of gannetwhales, looking closely at these birds. He is driven by curiosity: the hare that he ate will allow him to forget about the hunger for several hours, so the animal can afford to learn something new. Maybe, the information received today will be useful to him someday. However, gannetwhales do not intend to tolerate his presence, and one of the birds makes this clear in a very obvious way: it opens its beak and spits towards the keelut with an oily vomit that forms in the stomach of this bird. The aiming accuracy in these birds is not always good, but hitting the target isn’t the most important goal. The gannetwhale’s vomit does not hit the keelut, but the disgustingly smelling mass flops on the pebbles very close to him. The keelut’s sense of smell is keen, and this odor is simply unbearable for him. It looks like today the predator will have to look for food in any other place.
The predator leaves, and the gannetwhales accompany it with vocalization and clicking of their beaks. At other times, the keelut will be dangerous for their offspring – young gannetwhales stay on the coast for a long time, gaining weight, before they can go to the open sea following the adult birds. And while young birds are not ready to master life in the sea, adults should keep an eye on the surroundings of the colony – otherwise luck may turn on the side of the keelut.
It's getting warmer every next day. Snow melts quickly, water soaks into the scarce tundra soil and forms small lakes and swamps where the ground is still frozen. Sunny weather awakens plants to life, and local insects emerge from their shelters. And from the south, various feathered migrants begin to arrive. Small songbirds appear in the tundra – only few of them wintered here, but most survived the harsh local winter further south. Most of the songbirds are still on their way from their wintering grounds. Some of them wintered very close – in coniferous forests south of the tundra; therefore they appear in the northern tundra before the others. And other travelers move to Florida and the Gulf Coast by winter, and in the spring they go on a long journey to return home. They will appear here much later.
Wetlands, rivers and lakes of the North attract various waterfowl. Lanky silhouettes of herons and crails appear at the lakes, and flocks of ducks fly in the sky one by one. Some more days later, when the area of thawed patches increased considerably, and the heaps of snow remained only in shady places inaccessible for sun rays, flocks of larger birds appeared in the sky. They can be easily distinguished among numerous feathered travelers – they fly, lining up in a characteristic skein. The coloration of these birds is very severe, and thus stands out against the background of the colorful plumage of ducks – their plumage is almost entirely white, only the primary feathers are black, and the beaks and legs are bright pink. Occasionally, in flocks of white birds, there are some individuals of a bluish color, also with black feathers in their wings. These are traveler geese – a numerous migratory bird species. One by one, flocks of these birds return to the north. And these are only the first flocks living on the southernmost islands. The main bulk of traveler geese will fly farther to the north – to the area, where the snow only began melting.
One of the flocks landed on the ground right next to the rocks. These birds feel confident in this place – it is well known to them, because they hatched in this place and have bred here more than once. Traveler geese have an attachment to their native places, although sometimes family ties can force one of the birds to move to the homeland of its mating partner – usually the female moves to the male, although the opposite situation takes place sometimes. Therefore, most of the birds from this flock know this area very well, and those few newcomers who are here for the first time see that the rest of the birds behave calmly, and slowly begin to settle in the place new for them. On the ground, a flock of geese gradually loses its former unity: the birds break into pairs. The migration took a lot of forces, so many birds, after wandering a little on the ground, choose drier places, lay on the ground clinging to each other, and fall asleep. Only some birds do not sleep: they graze on last year's withered grass, which local herbivores could not dig out, or tear rare stems of spring grasses. However, it is still noticeable that after a long flight the birds are tired: it is clear that they breathe heavily and slightly sway on their feet. However, they prefer to stay awake: predators can roam around, and a tired bird is an easy prey.
This is well known to predators. The keelut carefully sniffs the air and approaches the flock of geese. While snow still lies in some places, his white winter coat can still serve as a camouflage. He carefully approaches the herd of traveler geese, keeping under the cover of stones and bushes of polar willow. He manages to sneak close enough to a group of resting geese. The keelut perfectly remembers the taste of the meat of these birds – while he lived in his parents’ lair, one of the family hunters regularly brought a killed goose. And now the young keelut male will not refuse the chance to catch one bird to feast on. He had already managed to get close enough to the flock of traveling geese to catch up with the prey before it could take off. He just has to wait for one of the grazing birds to move away farther: the keelut has already chosen a goose sleeping on the ground to attack. But at the last moment, everything does not go as planned: a finch with a thick beak took off from a bush of polar willow with a loud alarm trill. The nearest of the geese immediately jumped to its feet and gave a short cackle. Several other birds in the distance woke up and began to look around anxiously. And one of the geese noticed the white wool of the keelut flickered behind the bushes of the polar willow. The bird immediately began to cackle loudly, causing other birds to jump to their feet and join in its call. This jointly given alarm signal has several important functions: it unites the birds in the flock, allowing them to feel the support of each other, and shows the predator that it has been detected and it is pointless to continue hunting, because its possible prey is on the alert and will no longer allow itself to be attacked. The moment of surprise is lost, and the keelut has to stop his attack. Not hiding from the geese, he turns around and runs away, and after him comes the cackle of the flock of geese.
The first battle of this season has been won, but it won’t be the last at all. From time to time the keelut will visit the colony of traveler geese, and then luck may be on his side. The nesting time will start only later, and for now, the birds need to quickly recuperate after the migration.
Until the snow melted totally, and the grass is still low, the birds rest and feed. From time to time, other flocks of geese join them, but they continue their migration soon. Spring also comes to the north - but much later, and the short summer time is barely enough for the offspring to grow up and take wing. Therefore, the flow of winged migrants does not weaken for a long time. Traveler geese are accustomed to the appearance and disappearance of birds of other species near them – this happens every spring. This movement will wane soon – the flow of travelers from the south is gradually going out. Only once the geese were alarmed when the silhouettes of a pair of large birds appeared high in the sky. Usually they did not pay attention to the dark pile of branches and grass lying on the ledge of the rock. But this pair of bird silhouettes rushed straight towards it. The pile of plant debris on the rock is a nest, serving for many years in succession as a home to predators that even the keelut is afraid of. Now the owners of this nest have returned home: this is a pair of large xeitls – birds of prey with brown plumage coloration. After making several circles over the rock, the pair of eagle-sized birds landed on the rock. Seeing such guests, the geese, especially the young ones, turn alarmed: on the last stretch of the path, over coniferous forests, and even earlier, these birds caught old, young and inexperienced members of the colony more than once. But the geese began to nest here once not by chance: like many other raptors, xeitls do not hunt near their nest. They do not see a threat to their offspring in the numerous traveler geese nesting on the ground next to the rock. But the appearance of the keelut or any other predator is perceived by them as a threat to their offspring and causes a furious reaction of aggression from the breeding pair of xeitls. And along with their own nest, these predators also protect goose clutches, thereby compensating the traveler geese for the harm they cause during the migration.
Some more days have passed, and parental troubles begin in the geese colony. The birds gather dry grass and pluck fluff from their own bodies into the nesting pits left over from last year, as soon as they have dried out. Thanks to their excellent memory, the geese managed to find the places where their nests were built the last year. They are not very good nest builders, and they only needed to deepen the holes left from last year and replace the litter in them. Xeitls are also involved in the preparation for nesting: they vigorously throw out the old litter from the nest and gather a new one. To do it, they are ready to use the rule of force. When a xeitl female roams the geese colony, the traveler geese prefer not to mess with her and stay away from the dangerous neighbour. As long as there are no eggs in the nests, birds prefer not to fight – especially since an adult xeitl surpasses a traveler goose in weight and wingspan. Therefore, the xeitl female can freely gather grass for her own nest right from goose nests. The male approaches the preparation of nesting material mannishly. He drags branches for the nest, flying for them to the sea coast – in the nesting places of xeitls in the tundra, trees almost do not grow, but spring storms brought from the south and cast ashore several trees and bunches of branches. The xeitl male found one such pile not far from the colony of gannetwhales. When the xeitl appeared in the air over the sea coast, the gannetwhales became disturbed. The birds began to squawk loudly and snap their beaks aggressively, lifting them up as the xeitl flew over their colony. The reason for their aggression is clear: on the feet stretched back, many birds have oblong eggs, slightly covered from above by a skin fold between the legs and tail. Each gannetwhale female lays only one egg every two years, and if it is lost, she does not lay another one this season. And the offspring of gannetwhales must have time to grow up during the summer in order to be able to withstand wintering on the high seas, in constant motion. The stakes are too high, so the birds are ready to defend their future offspring with all possible ferocity. Flying too low over a colony of gannetwhales, the xeitl male almost lost his life: a pair of long beaks with jagged edges snapped right next to his feet, and one bird even managed to grab the xeitl’s tail and pull out one feather from it. Having uttered an indignant cry, the xeitl male flew higher and flapped its wings stronger, to pass the colony of gannetwhales. When he landed next to a pile of branches cast ashore by the waves, a large male gannetwhale emerged from the waves of the surf. Resting his flipper-like wings against the beach pebbles, he crawled towards the xeitl, forcing him to fly up with a cry and land on the other side of the pile of branches bleached by sea waves. Not wanting to put itself in danger, the xeitl male pulled a branch out of the pile and took off before the heavy gannetwhale male could reach him.
Gradually, things in the colony of the traveler goose are getting better. Petty quarrels subsided, the xeitl female gathered in geese nests enough litter for her own nest and now spends a significant part of her time inside it. The xeitl male flies in regular way somewhere in the tundra, from time to time returning to the female with prey – a hare, a duck, and sometimes a goose. But the birds nesting next to the xeitl rock can feel safe: there has never been a case of xeitl attacking one of their closest neighbors, even if they are quite edible. Instinct forbids them to do this, and traveler geese cleverly use this feature of the xeitl’s behavior.
A week later, eggs appear in geese nests. Young females have only 3-4 eggs, and adult strong birds lay up to 6 eggs. However, the appearance of eggs is just the beginning of parental worries. Only when the young birds are ready to follow their parents to their wintering grounds can we speak of nesting success. Incubation of eggs is the exclusive responsibility of females. Traveler goose males take part in rearing the brood and protecting young birds from enemies, but do not hatch the clutch. Males stay at the edges of the common nesting area. They feed and keep strangers away from the borders of nesting area. Large gulls often come from the coast and steal the eggs of geese, not even being afraid of the presence of xeitls. Therefore, the traveler goose males have to be ready to drive away these impudent robbers. Females hatch eggs diligently: only once a day they afford themselves to leave the nest for a while to graze fast and have a bath.
The territory of the nesting ground is divided into numerous nesting areas, which invisible boundaries are strictly observed. However, it still cannot do without conflicts: while feeding and bathing, the females still cross these boundaries, and when it seems to the owner of the nest that the neighbor has lingered too much on her territory or has come too close to the nest, she leaves the clutch and drives away the congener, flapping her wings and screaming. And this moment is patiently awaited by seagulls, which sometimes deliberately tease the geese, attacking the chosen nest with a noisy flock and plundering it completely. In the very first days of incubation, they managed to ravage several nests of young birds on the outskirts of the colony – this is the most dangerous place for goose clutches, and mainly low-ranking individuals nest here. But their ravaged nests help to keep the clutches of higher-ranking females intact. It is possible that in subsequent years, young birds will manage to take a place away from the edge of the colony and hatch chicks successfully. But now luck is not on their side. However, these birds do not go far from the colony. Having lost their nests, they still stay closer to their relatives and turn into diligent sentinels: their alarm signal, given in time, can help to save many other geese’s clutches.


The end of April and the beginning of May in Baffin Island is a time of abundance. Flowering grassy plants attract a huge number of pollinating insects. When warm weather sets in, insects leave their winter shelters and begin a full life. They still have to hide when the cold north wind drives gloomy clouds across the sky, and the ground is covered with cold prickly graupel. Under the breath of the wind, the flowers droop, but the next day the sun begins to shine again, and they open as if nothing had happened. There are dull-colored beetles, small solitary bees, modestly colored butterflies and nondescript flies – nature does not indulge northern flowers with a variety of pollinators. And the species diversity of the plants cannot be compared with the riot of shapes and colors of tropical nature. But on the other hand, northern flowers turn their bloom into an unforgettable performance. They form large thickets, so when flowering begins, a continuous carpet of flowers of the same species spreads over many meters. And the tundra from a bird’s eye view resembles a colorful patchwork of thickets of flowers, green grasses and lakes and ponds reflecting the blue sky.
Many birds are busy in rearing their offspring. The overwintered insect larvae completed their development, and the air above the tundra resounded with the buzz of the wings of numerous flies and mosquitoes. Chasing after them with enthusiasm are small songbirds, which had to visit their nests in regular way and feed their voracious fast-growing nestlings.
It became very noisy in the colony of gannetwhales near the sea coast: the birds had offspring, and now the parents have to work hard to get enough food not only for themselves, but also for their chicks. Juvenile gannetwhales are similar to seal pups: they are covered with down, at first sparse, but thicker later. They will spend the first days of their life safely on their parents’ feet, but then they will have to crawl down to a cold pebble beach and be left alone while their parents are busy catching fish and squid. Young birds are always hungry and ready to eat almost all the time with short breaks for sleep. They need to grow intensively so that by autumn they can go to sea with their parents.
There is also replenishment in the colony of traveler geese. If in gannetwhales, each breeding pair has only one chick, then in traveler geese, broods are more numerous, and the number of the colony almost triples in a matter of days. Females began incubating clutches almost simultaneously, so their chicks hatched with a day or two of difference. And now the females, together with the males, graze and look after their offspring. Goslings relentlessly follow their parents and actively learn to live in this harsh world. They are immediately attacked by mosquitoes, but the goslings are small and agile enough to peck at them, and the insects, instead of sucking blood, become food themselves. From time to time, the chicks hide under their parents to get warm, but then come out again and explore the world, in which they will live a long life – of course, if they’re lucky. Traveler geese lead their offspring to the nearest lake, and the goslings willingly splash in shallow water, nibbling on the soft greenery of aquatic plants and hunting for insect larvae, which literally teem in the shallow water. The tundra area around the xeitls’ rock differs from the rest of the tundra in rarer and shorter grass: the geese spend a lot of time in a safe place and strongly eat away all the grass that is edible for them. Of course, far from the xeitls’ cliff, the grass is thicker and taller, but there it is too easy to meet predators, the keeluts. From time to time, geese meet other herbivores – ducks of various species and Arctic skewhorns. These herbivorous quadrupeds, a smaller subspecies of their Greenland relatives, absolutely do not pay attention to the geese. They graze in herds, and the geese have to be careful not to get under the feet of these herbivores. In addition, the skewhorn calves born this spring are playful and chase birds just for fun. They take pleasure in driving small songbirds out of the grass, and one of them decided to try to drive traveler geese with a brood. Large white birds with some black spots are very noticeable against the background of the grass, and the calf rushed to them, sniffing and snorting. The male heard his stomping, turned around and gave a short cackle. The goslings immediately rushed to the mother and she hid them under her plumage, and the male opened his wings and ran waddling towards the skewhorn calf. This action greatly surprised the calf: instead of running away and flying up, this strange bird ran to him. Calf stopped, breathing deeply, and simply stared at the approaching white bird with black edges of its wide wings. And in the next second, the blow of the beak fell right into its sensitive nose. The skewhorn calf mooed in fright, and at the same moment the goose managed to peck its nose again and pinched it painfully. And this bird is not alone: from somewhere from the side, another goose male was waddling, flapping his wings and hissing loudly. The frightened skewhorn calf rushed to the mother, who had already separated from the common herd, ready to save it from danger. She saw the geese, heard their cackle and hiss, but she has already grown up and does not perceive them as a danger. Seeing that nothing threatens her calf, the skewhorn female carefully sniffed the frightened calf, which pressed against her side, and led it to the herd of relatives. But after a couple of pinches, the young skewhorn fully learned the lesson taught to it and will no longer approach the colony and scare the geese. And the geese themselves willingly feed in the neighborhood with these animals: keelut can threaten the skewhorn calves, and the adult skewhorn female can drive it away and thereby protect not only their offspring, but also the geese with broods that appeared to be nearby.
Chicks also appeared in the nest of the xeitls – two males and two females. Spring was rich in food, and the female made a full clutch. The down-covered chicks sit huddled together and resemble a little pile of goose down, with which the female has carefully lined the nest from inside. Thanks to this, they are not afraid of the cold wind, and one of the parents is always there to warm them. The female usually stays in the nest. Only occasionally the hungry squeak of chicks makes her go hunting – usually it happens in the morning. While the mother is not around, the chicks are forced to warm themselves by the each other’s warmth. However, when the north wind does not blow, the morning sun warms them so that they even feel hot. Then they get out of the litter and lie down on the edge of the nest, stretching their short wings covered with down and buds of flight feathers. And one of them soon noticed as an adult xeitl hastens to the nest, flapping its wings heavily. This is their father. Today, during the morning hunt, he was lucky, and he brought a killed goose to the nest – a large bird with brown plumage, which he caught at the shore of one lake. He is greeted by the hungry squeak of chicks demanding their share of the prey. The mother flew off to hunt, and the chicks still do not know how to feed themselves. Therefore, the male begins to tear the prey himself. He does it not as skillfully as the mother, but he succeeds despite of it. The fluff from his prey scatters from the nest, and the chicks, squeaking eagerly, demand their share of food from him. At this time, it becomes noticeable that one of the four is weaker than the others – this is one of the two females. She asks for food not so actively, and it is clear that she is physically weaker than other chicks: her brothers and sister simply push her away from the parent with prey. The little female gets the least amount of meat. Every new day she will lag in development: the differences that appear at such an early age will simply be aggravated in the future. Most likely, she will not live even to the first flight.
Two days later, the geese take the chicks to the open water – to the river flowing nearby. Here they have to fight the current, and parents must constantly keep eye on chicks to prevent them from being carried away by the current. In addition, many other birds live here, including herons, which can be dangerous for the small chicks. Seagulls fly here from the sea, and they also will not miss the opportunity to steal the gosling. Therefore, parents should not lose their vigilance.
A family of traveler geese with a brood approaches the riverbank. The male walks first to make sure the way is safe. The female follows him, urging five goslings, whose feathers have barely begun to grow in the wings. For the first time, the chicks have gone so far from their native colony, and everything is interesting to them. When the family of birds came to the river bank, several small, only starling-sized waders fluttered from the coastal stones. With a plaintive squeak, they flew away from the goose family and continued to gather food, probing the cracks between the stones with their beaks and raking last year’s rotten foliage in shallow water.
The adult geese entered the water and swam. The female called the goslings to her, and they boldly entered the water, but stopped as soon as the water reached their stomachs. They felt the unfamiliar sensation of flowing water. Before that, they swam only in safe shallow marshes and lakes with stagnant water. One of the goslings took some more short steps after their parents and swam. It immediately had to work hard with its legs, because the current began to carry it away from its mother. But it quickly coped with this difficulty and soon found itself next to its mother. Looking at their sibling, other chicks also boldly entered the water and the current immediately began to carry them away, forcing them to work with their legs in order to keep up with their parents. Seeing that it was still difficult for them to follow the adult birds, the mother goose swam up to them and began to push them gently with her breast. Birds with a brood follow in a shallow bay, overgrown with reeds and sedge along the banks. They are not the only brood of waterfowl in this place: several families of traveler geese are already swimming around the bay, and small motley ducks scurry among them, accompanied by broods of ducklings. Adult geese plunge their heads into the water and pull the aquatic plants growing at the bottom. Goslings try to repeat the movements of their parents, but so far their necks are too short in order to reach the bottom. But the parents do not eat all the plants, and the goslings manage to nibble the delicate greenery. Besides, they are interested in everything. When ducks with a brood swim nearby, the goslings immediately swim to look at their new neighbors. Seeing this, the female rushes after them, flapping her wings and desperately working her legs. Seeing her approach, the ducks get scared: the traveler goose is larger than the duck, and the female’s attempt to return the chicks is perceived by them as aggression on the part of the goose. The female duck sounds an alarm and the whole family of birds literally disappears out of the blue: they just dive, and the chicks do it almost as dexterously as their parents. The goslings suddenly find themselves alone, and only the mother catches up with them somewhere behind. And the ducks at this time just swim under the water and emerge some meters far from the goslings. Relations between different species living in the same place can be very difficult, and the aggressiveness of traveler geese towards smaller species compels their neighbors to be cautious.
The geese themselves should also be careful, and the goslings should not leave their mother while they are still small and cannot fend for themselves. Therefore, the female does not allow them to move away and is constantly next to them. Having swum to her chicks, she began to push them carefully away from the coastal thickets into open water. And she did it just in time: a young keelut is watching the birds from the sedge thickets. This is the same beast that the geese met on their territory right after arriving north. Since that time, he has changed a lot: the winter wool has already shed and is replaced with short gray fur with reddish tan marks on the throat, stomach and sides. Therefore, it is difficult to see him against the background of the ground and grass, and he uses it while hunting. While the birds were hatching their eggs in the nesting area around the xeitl rock, the predator bewared to visit them. Now, away from the nest of feathered predators, he can afford to hunt geese. In addition, the geese colony and the river are located on the border of the possessions of several keelut family groups, so he is rarely disturbed by adult beasts, and he always has the opportunity to hide in somebody other’s territory if any keelut clan decides to hunt in this place. He is a loner, not restricted by family ties, and he does not yet have a good permanent home, so he is his own master and the worries about getting food lie solely on him. As long as there are no hunting keelut family groups in the area, he can try to get a goose for his dinner. And now he is approaching a young female gathering her chicks away from the other birds. The predator deftly uses bushes and stones as shelters, and he manages to get close enough to the intended prey. However, he failed to hunt this time: he is alone, and there is a clear numerical advantage on the side of the geese. He has to monitor not only prey, but also the surroundings, and geese can devote more time to their own worries and only monitor the behavior of their neighbors. A flock of birds has many eyes on the alert, so sooner or later any danger will be detected and an alarm will be given. And it happened so this time: one of the males accidentally noticed the head of a predator flashing behind the bushes and hissed. Following him, other males began to hiss and arch their necks. The alarm signal quickly spread throughout the goose colony, and the neighbors of the geese – ducks and waders – hurried to safety. The males began to come together, advancing step by step on the keelut, and females with chicks hid behind them. The keelut, noticing the displays of the geese, no longer stayed hidden – he came out from behind the bushes and growled. However, he is in no hurry to attack the geese: even while hunting in his parents’ pack, he tried to catch such a hissing goose and received many painful pinches and blows instead of prey. As a reminder of this attempt, a scar was left under his eye, now overgrown with hair. So he just backed off, snarling and baring his teeth, and left to look for other prey. In any case, there is still a lot of food for this predator in the tundra: murine rodents, small birds and even fish in rivers and small lakes. Such a generalist predator is unlikely to remain hungry.
The keelut returned a week later. But this time he did not need to visit the geese colony. While xeitls were on the hunt, he checked the area around their nest. Sometimes there were the remains of the prey of these birds – torn hares, geese and other inhabitants of the tundra. But this time, something different was waiting for him: a dead xeitl chick lay under the rock. The small female was just pushed out of the nest this morning and she crashed because she couldn’t fly yet. The geese that turned out to be nearby glanced nervously at the dead chick and the keelut standing next to it. But there was no danger for them: the predator simply picked up the little carcass and dragged it away from the nest, before the adult xeitls returned from hunting. The dead bird was emaciated, with little meat on the bones. And yet, the keelut ate everything that it had, and even gnawed the cartilage from the bones. Such meager prey would hardly be enough until the next day, but for now he had satisfied his hunger. Leaving the gnawed bones of the young xeitl, the keelut went to his hole, dug out among the bushes, where he fell asleep then.


Gradually, the traveler goose chicks grew up, and the parents return to the colony less and less. Geese stay mainly near the river, because adult birds begin a dangerous molting time. At this time, flight feathers change in the wings of birds, and they simply cannot take off in case of danger. And near the water there is always an opportunity to escape from the enemy: keelut, although being able to swim, rarely dares to chase the geese in the water. Although they cannot take off, they are much more confident in the water. Fleeing from the possible chasing of the keelut, the birds can literally run on the water, helping themselves with the flapping of wings, which sometimes lack too many feathers. Traveler goose chicks are already beginning to grow real feathers – the first feathers appear on chest and lower body at them. They still have to live for quite a long time under parental care, learn to search for food and distinguish edible herbs from poisonous ones. Geese from different families spend a lot of time close to each other – in this way, it’s easier to notice the danger in time and hide from it in the river. The keelut visited them several times, but only one chick lagged behind its parents and an old goose unable to fly due to molting have fallen his prey. For the colony, it is a very small loss.
The middle of June has come, and the sun does not set on Baffin Island now – a long polar day begins. At this time, the night is just a light twilight for some hours around midnight, when the animals are dozing, and the disk of the sun “strikes” the horizon with its edge. The life of other inhabitants of the tundra continues, and some worries are replaced by other ones. Bird songs are no longer heard: small passerine birds have long ceased to mark their territories and are completely absorbed in caring for their offspring now. Many tundra flowers had decayed now, but the grass grew tall enough and produced numerous spikelets and panicles. The wind pollinates the graminoids, and they will have time to give seeds by autumn. Thickets of grasses sway in the wind like waves, giving food to numerous herbivores, including traveler geese.
Summer is a time of abundance for insects. It doesn’t matter, that the butterflies, beetles and bees of the tundra not shine with bright colors or bizarre shapes of their tropical relatives. But in the tundra, there are insects that can cause panic among the large inhabitants of the tundra – these are mosquitoes, midges and horseflies. A huge number of marshes, lakes and rivers represent the places where their larvae develop in abundance. Having completed development and got wings, swarms of millions of these insects are ready to torment the inhabitants of the tundra.
Arctic skewhorns suffer greatly from horseflies and mosquitoes. Their summer coat has become much thinner than winter one and cannot serve as protection against these bloodsuckers. Insects attack the ears, eyes and nostrils of these animals, as well as the groin area, where the hair and the skin are thinner. Moaning plaintively, the skewhorns try to drive off these insects, but almost without any success. Then, birds come to the rescue. Songbirds deftly catch insects on the fly and even use the backs and heads of skewhorns as a perch, where they wait for their prey. Some of them prefer to catch large horseflies one at a time, while others swoop through a swarm of mosquitoes and manage to grab several of these insects at once in one rush. For the sake of getting rid of the tormentors, the skewhorns patiently endure the presence of birds on their backs and freeze, as if afraid to frighten them away, when little feathered helpers perch on their backs. However, in this way it is possible to get rid only of large insects. Small midges, the ubiquitous gnats, attack animals in whole clouds and stuff themselves into their eyes, ears and nostrils, turning their life into a real torment.
The boundaries of nesting colonies are gradually losing their former importance for traveler geese and their offspring, and the nests themselves are simply abandoned until next year. Flocks of traveler geese with offspring roam the tundra, adhering to the riversbanks and lake shores. Sometimes they are joined by geese of other species with chicks and ducks. They almost do not compete, feeding on different herbs, and fairly peaceful relations develop between birds of different species. Sometimes they nibble grass next to herds of Arctic skewhorns grazing nearby. These ungulates rarely pay attention to geese, but willingly use their guard services. A large flock of geese is more likely to notice the enemy and will probably give an alarm loud enough to be understood by representatives of other species. And the anxiety of the geese makes the skewhorns wary quite justifiably – the danger that the birds notice is most often real for the skewhorns themselves or for their offspring. Geese, on the other hand, are in relative safety next to these mighty ungulates – neither xeitls nor keeluts will dare to attack the geese in the presence of skewhorns capable of repelling these predators.
Some skewhorns escape from bloodsuckers in a rather simple way: they enter the river and swim in the water for a long time, leaving only their head and part of their back above the water surface. Cold river water soothes skin itchy from bites, so the beasts spend a lot of time in the water, leaving it only to graze on the shore. Wet wool saves them from midges for some time, but in the wind and under the rays of the sun it quickly dries up, and midges attack them again.
A family of skewhorns is resting from midges in the water. The head of the family is a large male, on whose head a large shovel-shaped horn is already growing. Next to him are several females and their offspring – five calves of about the same age, born this season. Adult animals not only lie down in the water, but also look for food: having taken air into their chests, they lower their heads into the water and pull underwater plants from the bottom of the river. Having obtained food, they chew it languishingly, twitching their ears and snorting to drive away random insects. Traveler geese are not afraid of skewhorns: they swim very close to the backs of these animals, and some of them even manage to steal underwater plants obtained by animals almost right from their mouths, although more often, of course, they eat emerging scraps of stems and leaves.
Under the feet of the animals, silver bodies of fishes flash in the water: schools of small fish, related to smelt of the human era, enter into the river from the sea. These fishes are small – only about 10 centimeters long. However, they gather in large shoals and move to spawn in the upper reaches of the river. When skewhorns roam the bottom of the river or swim, paddling the water with their wide hooves, fishes rush away from them.
Adult xeitl hovers over the river, looking for prey. It is ready to attack the goose, but the presence of the skewhorn clearly prevents it: if the beasts perceive the attack of the xeitl as a threat to their own offspring, they can simply drown the bird in the river. Therefore, the xeitl does not try to attack the geese swimming next to these beasts. From the height of its flight, a feathered predator can see how fish shoals flow around the bodies of skewhorns swimming in the river like dark amorphous spots and rush to the sides when the skewhorns move. And it notices something else: from the side of the sea against the current of the river, a long-nosed streamlined creature is moving along the river channel, flapping by two fins. However, this creature is all the more uninteresting for the xeitl as a prey, so the feathered predator majestically flaps its wings and flies away.
A family of traveler geese with their chicks swims close to the skewhorns lounging in the cool water. Birds gather from the surface of the water duckweed and floating plants carried by the current, and also peck at plants torn from the bottom of the river by the movements of skewhorns. A small splash of water caused one of the adult birds to turn its head and look around. A small silvery fish just jumped out of the water and immediately plopped back into the water. Several other ones did the same after it. Next second, the surface of the water as if boiled instantly: several hundreds of small fishes jumped out of the water at once. And here even the skewhorns turned their heads towards the source of the splash. Next second, the surface of the water literally swelled like a mound, when a large body rushed upward from the depths. A long beak appeared from the water in the fountain of splashes – extended at the tip and equipped with tooth-like outgrowths along the edge, followed by the gray back with many white and black specks. A pair of strong flippers plopped down the water, and the creature disappeared under water again.
The skewhorn male bellowed anxiously, and the females with their calves swam to the shore, fleeing from an unknown but obvious danger. And the geese rushed to the sides, uttering an alarming cackle. Some of the adult birds splashed their wings on the water, and one of them suddenly managed to break away from the surface of the water and fly several meters. Adult geese gradually grow new flight feathers to replace those that have fallen out, and it turned out that the most dangerous moments of molting are already over: some of the birds can already take off and fly for some time, escaping from enemies.
The tranquility of the skewhorns and traveling geese was disturbed by a lone gannetwhale. Chasing the fish moving to spawning grounds, the huge bird left the sea coast and moved up the river for several kilometers. In a narrower and shallower riverbed, fishing is much easier than in the sea. With a few strokes of its flippers, the bird caught up with the school of fish and crashed into it with its long beak. Shaking its head from side to side, the gannetwhale began to snatch fish – often two or three fish at once got into its beak. A school of fish tries to avoid the deadly beak of the bird, but due to the speed of the reaction of the predator, many more fishes will die before the school will manage to continue its journey to the headwaters.
Having stuffed its stomach with fish, the gannetwhale turned to the riverbank and got out into shallow water, causing a panic among the waders and gulls walking along the riverbank. Here the bird lost its former grace and ease of movement, turning into a slow and clumsy creature. Pushing with its flippers and helping itself with its short legs, the bird climbed onto the riverbank and crawled on the grass. Looking around, it stretched out its body on the ground and fell asleep soon. A certain small bird perched on its back and began to probe with its beak the hard short plumage of the gannetwhale, searching for the parasites that had settled on the body of the bird. Gannetwhales do not suffer from horseflies or mosquitoes – there are almost none of them at the sea coast, they are simply blown away by the wind. But on the other hand, parasitic crustaceans often penetrate into the skin of the bird, causing itching in its skin. But the fresh water of the river and the help of small birds help it to get rid of these parasites.
After the panic caused by the appearance of the gannetwhale in the river calmed down, the skewhorns began to look closely at this stranger. The gannetwhale is the sea inhabitant; it rarely meets the tundra inhabitants. Therefore, the wariness of the skewhorns is quite understandable. The beasts carefully sniff the air, but the giant bird smells only of ooze and fish – both of these smells do not cause alarm in the skewhorns. Therefore, the beasts enter the river again, carefully bypassing the sleeping bird. After a couple of hours, the gannetwhale will return to the river and head back to the sea coast.
Xeitls also fly out of the nest more often than in spring. The chicks have grown and require more food. They are already quite well developed, got out of the nest and are trying to fly. But now there are only two of them left. One of the brothers disappeared – he was simply eaten by other chicks when the parents could not find enough food for several days in the row. This is always the case with flesh-eating birds – the survival of some ones comes at the expense of others. But both of the remaining chicks survived and remained strong enough to survive temporary food supply difficulties. The competition between them is very sharp: they keep a certain distance from each other and constantly quarrel over the food brought by their parents. Once a male brought them a dead traveler goose female – far from the colony, he catches these birds freely, although in the spring, he did not attack them very close to his own nest. He does not have such strongly expressed parental behavior, so he rarely tears prey to pieces. And now, when the young birds have grown significantly, he is not going to do this at all. He simply threw the goose carcass into the nest, and stepped aside, giving the young birds the right to butcher the prey themselves. But until this day, the young xeitls received only pieces of prey, which the mother carefully tore apart and fed them from her own beak. However, now she is somewhere far away, busy with the hunt, and is unlikely to return anytime soon to help her chicks. The young xeitls look at the carcass, but do not know how to process it. Nevertheless, they are hungry and show this with every appearance: they squat in front of the male and squeak, opening their beaks. But they are already large and fully fledged, therefore, the male did not respond to their requests at first. But their voices are becoming more insistent, so the male stepped on the prey with his foot, plucked several bunches of feathers and tore the skin on the belly of the dead goose. Blood flowed, and the insides of the bird fell out. He pulled out a piece of meat, but did not begin feeding the chicks, and just ate it himself. Barely looking at the chicks, he continued to eat. It was a kind of challenge for young birds, and soon the young female repeated his action, followed by her brother. The male stepped aside, watching how they tear up the prey, and then took off and flied to another hunt. When the female returns, the young birds will probably fill up and allow her to eat some of the prey herself.
Having quickly dealt with the prey, the young xeitls threw its remnants out of the nest. Several heaps of bones, skins and feathers had already accumulated under the rock of the xeitls, emitting a stench and teeming with grubs and maggots. Young birds grow quickly and require a lot of food. They grow feathers on their wings, and while birds are not busy with feeding, they train in the art of flight: clutching the edge of the nest with their paws, they flap their wings, working and strengthening the flight muscles. In autumn, they will already have to get food on their own, and in winter they will have to pass a harsh test of survival.
The hunting success of the xeitls made one of the traveler geese a widower. For some time, he continued to call his dead mate, but now, in the midst of the northern summer, chicks need much less care: they are already quite well fledged, and they do not need to be warmed, as in the first days of their life. Gradually, he gets used to the fact that he will have to take care of the chicks alone. The widowed male still leads the chicks to the meadow and to the river. The mating season has ended a long time ago; young birds are already relatively independent and can feed themselves. He is mainly required to be on his guard so as not to miss the approach of predators. He will start fighting for the female later – in the winter, far to the south. Now the birds need to build up enough amount of fat, preparing for the migration. Young and adult birds must accumulate enough fat during the summer to be able to make a long flight to the south of the continent, to wintering grounds. Moreover, young geese, like the xeitls, more and more often flap their wings and make attempts to fly. And it is not always possible to gather them at the right time.
The keelut is watching the geese. He didn’t come here for at least two weeks, hunting in other places. But now he is not alone. Next to him, there is a young female from a neighboring pack – the animals have formed a pair, which, perhaps, will give rise to a new clan. The pair of animals keeps peacefully towards each other: it is quite possible that they have already dug a common hole somewhere in a secluded place. And now both predators choose a prey in the flock of traveler geese. It looks like it will be a yearling which stays too far away from other birds. It hears the voices of adults, so it calmly nibbles grass, not noticing anything suspicious. Meanwhile, predators approach it, hiding in the tall grass. The grayish-red coat of predators perfectly camouflages them among the tundra vegetation and allows them to come very close to the geese, being not noticed. The male approaches from the side, cutting off the chosen goose from the colony, and the female simply rushes at the bird. The anxious cackle of one of the birds was too late – the bird already flapped in the teeth of the keelut, scattering white feathers in the wind, while other geese took off or ran towards the water. But for predators, it no longer matters: their efforts were rewarded with prey. A few minutes later, the young goose stopped flapping and died. The keelut female began to tear at the prey, spitting out bunches of white feathers, and the male joined her. The animals sniffed each other, as they always did when they met, and then began to eat unitedly.
A ferocious growl coming from somewhere off the side alerted the couple of keeluts. They stopped eating and turned their bloodstained muzzles towards the source of the sound. The state of affairs was not the best: bein absorbed in feeding, they let the enemy get too close to them. In front of them stood a large waheela – their distant relative, also a descendant of the arctic fox. Waheelas usually live in packs and hunt large prey like Arctic skewhorns. But relations within their packs are based upon a strict hierarchy, so there are always outcasts among them, on whom the rest of the pack members vent their aggression with impunity. And just such an outcast stands in front of the pair of keeluts: a male having one of the last ranks in his pack. He is often malnourished and does not disdain to take food from weaker animals of other species – as is happening now. More than once he had prowled alone along the edges of the vast possessions of the pack, attacking small predators like lone keeluts, or picking up carrion. And the keeluts themselves, hunting in their native pack, were often attacked by lone waheelas who encroached on their prey. But now the situation is quite different: the keeluts do not want to share their prey, and numerical superiority is on their side. They took a few steps towards the waheela, growled and began to throw the earth away with their hind legs, ritually “burying” their prey. This display continues for several minutes until the waheela retreats. He could handle one keelut easily, but not a couple. Moreover, the keeluts are now acting together. So the larger animal turned around and walked back to its pack. So, the keeluts returned to their meal, and an hour later only wings with peeled feathers, a head and a gnawed spine remained from the carcass of the goose. All soft parts of prey were eaten.
August comes, and noticeable changes begin in nature. Nights returned to the tundra, so it immediately became noticeably colder. However, berries ripen on the bushes – descendants of cranberry and blueberry of the human era. The tundra is a harsh place, but at times the bounty of nature is truly limitless here. Low bushes are covered with berries so densely that their thickets take on a noticeable reddish or bluish tint when viewed from afar. Berries represent a nutritious and easily accessible food resource, so at the end of summer even predators leave their habits and switch to plant foods. The couple of keeluts, who have already managed to fit up a hole near the rocks smoothed by ancient glaciers, go out to feed on berries regularly. The animals willingly eat large bluish berries, and the hair on their muzzles acquires a noticeable purple hue, and the tongues turn dark blue. The predators move from one bush to another, feasting on the gifts of late summer, but do not miss the opportunity to catch a small animal: dozens of rodents dart under the bushes, gathering falling berries, so the keeluts, given the right dexterity, manage to grab them. Almost without interrupting feeding, predators swallow the prey along with bones and wool, and immediately swallow another portion of ripe berries after it. Migratory birds grow fat actively. Young geese are already completely covered with glossy plumage and are almost indistinguishable from adult birds – only their plumage has a slightly grayish tint, and their beaks and legs are slightly duller than those of adults. But under the bright sun rays, this difference is almost imperceptible. Separate families are already mixing and uniting in large flocks, and the birds continue feeding, pecking not only berries, but also grass. From time to time, the birds take off and circle in the air over the tundra for some time, screaming loudly – young birds strengthen their muscles and prepare for the first big journey in their lives, and adults clean themselves up and try their strength before the migration. They feel that this season their stay here is coming to an end.
Other inhabitants of the tundra also matured. Juvenile xeitls have grown to nearly adult size and now hunt with their parents. Outwardly, they can hardly be distinguished from their parents – only a duller plumage gives out their age. During the flight, they stay in the air confidently, trying to copy the behavior of adults and stay close to them. The xeitl family has already flown out for hunting together more than once. Young birds look with interest at the world that opens from the height of their flight. From the air, they see a herd of grazing skewhorns, keeluts dozing in the sunny place and geese grazing in a meadow near the river. Various ducks swim on the surface of the river – motley and one-colored ones. The birds of prey rise higher – they hunt, and they do not need to be discovered too early. Having hovered in the air and chosen a prey, the xeitl male swooped down rapidly, followed by the female. However, at the last moment, they had been noticed, and panic gripped a flock of geese. Screaming loudly, the geese took off, but one of the birds was clearly too late. Like arrows, xeitls cut into into a flock of flying geese, and the male’s sharp claws clung to the back of the prey, and the beak tore its spinal cord. The female managed to grab a young goose right in the air and fell to the ground with it. Ignoring the panic of the geese around, the couple of adult xeitls began to eat their prey. The young xeitls landed in the grass next to the adults, approached them and began begging for food, according to their childish habit, opening their beaks and squeaking. However, this time, instead of food, they get only aggressive displays and threatening attacks from their parents. The connection between young and adult birds is gradually weakening. Young birds have only to watch how their parents eat, catching the ferocious glances of adult xeitls. For the first time in many weeks, all prey goes exclusively to those ones who caught it. Soon the adult birds are full, and the young ones can only look around, watching the traveling geese roaming the grass at a safe distance from them.
Changes are also taking place in the life of the largest feathered inhabitants of the islands. On the coast of the island, young gannetwhales have already changed their juvenile down to plumage typical for adult birds and are trying to swim in the ocean. Thanks to the tireless care of their parents, they put on weight and accumulated a large enough supply of fat not to freeze in the cold ocean water. Previously, they only crawled along the shore with curiosity along the surf line, and the waves that sweeped over them at that time were perceived more as a game. But now, they are already well enough prepared for excursions to the ocean. When adult birds go fishing, young gannetwhales dive with them, but do not swim far into the sea, remaining in shallow coastal waters. Long beaks help these birds to catch small prey, and young gannetwhales try to catch small benthic fish and crustaceans on their own. Of course, they do not immediately succeed, and still they will have to beg for food from adult birds. But the fish caught independently is a good incentive to continue hunting, honing their skills step by step. Soon they will have to go to sea with their parents, but before that they will need to learn how to fish far from the coast.
Due to the thick layer of fat, gannetwhales do not feel changes in the weather on the coast of the island. However, other birds feel much worse. Each new night is a tiny bit longer than the previous one, and in addition, it is cooler. The sun rises lower and lower above the horizon, and during the day it no longer has time to warm the ground as it was only a month ago. It gets colder at night, and blood-sucking insects, that make life difficult for the inhabitants of the tundra, no longer swarm in the air. And one morning the ground and grass appeared covered with a thin layer of white frost. The leaves of plants, trimmed along the edge with a fringe of the thinnest ice crystals look beautiful, but this is a sign of future changes: the first frost of the upcoming autumn, the cold breath of winter. And this did not go unnoticed: on the same day, the ranks of songbirds on Baffin Island thinned significantly. The autumn migration of birds begins.


The days are getting shorter and shorter. The first ambassador of the coming winter was a cold wind from the sea. Its squalls, rare at first, become more and more tangible every day. The sky becomes covered with rain clouds, pouring tedious lingering rain. And the animals start to worry. Geese and ducks are still grazing in the tundra, but more and more often they make long flights, preparing for the migration. The grass has already begun to fade, and the berries, the gifts of a generous summer, have been eaten a long time ago. However, the geese can still stay in these places for some time.
But the xeitls are clearly worried. The first migrating individuals and families from the north are already appearing – from Ellesmere Island and other islands above the Arctic Circle. They stay on Baffin Island for two or three days, but then fly further south. They will hunt flocks of migratory birds farther to the south – in the forests and on the coast of the large Mishe-Nama lake.
In autumn, another event begins on the island – the rutting of the skewhorns. All summer long, each of these beasts grew a heavy horn with an extended shovel-shaped front. In winter, it will also serve as a shovel for them and help them to dig out the snow in search of withered grass and leaves of evergreen shrubs. But now, the horns serve them for mating displays. They completely hardened, and the velvety skin that covered them gradually shed. Preparing for the tournaments, the males rubbed the horn against the stones, peeling off the remnants of the skin, and soon they were ready to fight for the females. The females are still growing horns – they will ossify a little later, by the beginning of winter, and will stay longer on their heads.
Early morning in the tundra begins with the roar of skewhorn males. Large beasts have divided the territory of the tundra into separate areas, and roam along the boundaries of their territories, keeping the females on their land and preventing them from crossing into the territory of the rival. When fighting over females, Arctic skewhorn males roar and shake their heads and display their horns to each other. They do not butt heads, as the horn serves them for getting food under the snow, and its breakage during the mating tournament may question the survival of the beast in winter. The leader of the herd, like its Greenland relative, drives away young rivals roaming the borders of his territory from his harem of females. Rivals do this in the open and from time to time tease the male by entering his territory and approaching the females. And when an adult male tries to drive off one of the daring challengers, others may take the opportunity to mate quickly with one of the females. Traveler geese grazing next to the herd prefer to stay away from these animals during the rut – while defending his harem from rivals, the male may simply accidentally trample on some bird. And some males, blinded by hormones raging in their blood, rush at everything that moves, and can easily throw the goose aside with a blow of the horn, breaking all its bones.
A young and impudent male approaches the herd of skewhorns. He has already managed to participate in breeding last year, and somewhere among the young, born in the spring, there are his calves also. However, it was only an occasional success, and he has not yet been able to gather his own harem. But now he is ready to fight for the owning of his own females. The adult owner of the harem comes out to meet him, lowing and from time to time bellowing in a bass voice. It is a warning to the challenger, but the young male does not back down. He lowers his head to the ground and scatters grass tussocks in sides with powerful movements of his horn, and then urinates on the ground. This is a serious challenge – the young challenger is ready to fight for the harem, and he is not afraid of displays of strength and pushes in the side. However, the duel begins right in this way: the leader of the herd rushes straight at the opponent, trying to hit him with the chest or shoulder. But the challenger ran aside and delivered a roundhouse blow to the side of the older one. The beasts moved away from each other and stood at a distance of several steps, shaking their heads and from time to time throwing pieces of sod and clods of earth to the sides with their horns. None of them wants to back down. The tension is mounting – the nleader of the herd clearly does not need this opponent, and he will have to demonstrate all his power to scare him away. The leader reared up suddenly and took a few steps on his hind legs. His opponent, seeing this, also got up and repeated this action. This was quite enough for an adult male to see that the rival was the same height, and his horn was slightly longer. The challenge is serious enough to be ignored, so both males get to their feet at the same time and start a serious fight.
Again and again, the beasts converge and push with their shoulders, trying to knock each other down. The battle is accompanied by a loud warlike roar, and none of the beasts is not going to be inferior to the other. Fighting beasts do not notice anything around, and predators took advantage of this. An alarm call from one of the skewhorn females made the males stop the fight, but too late. Raising their heads, the males saw only the fleeing herd of females and began to look around, trying to determine where the danger came from.
Waheelas approached the herd from behind the nearest hill – it was they who frightened the females and interrupted the duel of the males. The males reacted to the appearance of predators, but lost precious seconds, being carried away by the fight, and now a whole pack of hungry waheelas is approaching them. Everyone for himself now. The leader with a powerful kick threw back the yearling waheela who had inadvertently attacked him; this action forced the predators to retreat, and he managed to break through their ring and fled after the females. And his young rival hesitated and was surrounded by howling and barking waheelas. Soon the drama was over – he received several wounds in the stomach, and the waheelas could only watch how the mighty young skewhorn bled to death. When he fell to the ground, predators surrounded him and began to tear the carcass of the prey. It’s no wonder – such young and ambitious beasts often lose their caution during mating tournaments and die in the teeth of predators. The hunting of waheelas was extremely successful: only one animal, which was kicked by a skewhorn, limps; but he will recover in some days. The injury had no effect on its appetite.
At this time, the keeluts roam at a respectful distance from the waheelas and their prey and watch the feast of their larger relatives. They know perfectly well that the carcass of an adult skewhorn cannot be eaten whole at once even by very hungry waheelas. After them, a lot of edible matter will always remain on the bones of their prey. They are not alone waiting for the end of the feast: seagulls roam the ground around the carcass. Unlike the keeluts, the gulls are less cautious: they approach the carcass and even land on it, and the waheelas, dissatisfied with their presence, only snarl, continuing eating the meat. The keeluts are forced to stay away from them: if they approach before the waheelas are full, they can simply be torn to pieces. Therefore, they exercise caution, knowing from experience that such behavior will pay off in full. And after about half an hour they waited for the opportunity to eat – waheelas already eat meat less actively and choose better pieces. When high-ranking individuals ate fill and moved away, low-ranking animals still continued to feed – large prey rarely appears on their dinner table, but now they can eat to satiety. However, they will not be able to eat more than their stomachs can accommodate, so soon even they move away from the carcass of the skewhorn, leaving it to be torn to pieces by seagulls. As soon as the hunters left, the keeluts trotted up to the carcass, scaring away the gulls, and began to eat the remains of meat from the bones and gnaw the cartilage.
By mid-September, the xeitls finally left their nest. After circling over the rock and nesting area for the last time this year, all four birds headed south. Young birds still remain with their parents, but they will have to return from wintering alone, and their parents will no longer allow them to settle on their territory. Now only a few sedentary aerial predators remain on Baffin Island – a small population of very light xeitls and owls. Geese and other birds more and more often fly up to the rock without fear, and sometimes they even settle down to spend the night there – ground-dwelling predators will not get them there.
October has come. Only a memory remained of the summer weather. The north wind drives clouds from the Arctic Ocean, from which not rain, but fine snow falls, which barely has time to melt in a day. The grass has fallen and turned brown, and only evergreen shrubs continue to green under the gloomy autumn sky, despite the weather. All living beings feel the approach of winter and prepare for it.
Gannetwhales react to weather changes in a very simple way: they just move to the ocean. On the morning before this event, the pebbly beach of the island is buzzing with their voices. All birds are engulfed in excitement: both large adults and young ones hatched in the spring. A cold wind carries fine graupel over the waves, but birds are not afraid of them: they have accumulated a thick layer of fat under the skin. From the very dawn, the birds scream, raising their beaks to the sky, and their voices drown out the roar of the ocean waves. Finally, some birds turn towards the water and crawl into the ocean, scattering pebbles with the blows of their flipper-like wings. These are adults who have long wanted to leave this coast and go to sea. Following them, one of the young birds crawled to the water, and in a few minutes the entire colony of gannetwhales began to move. Fat gray bodies move clumsily towards the water, pebbles fly off from under their flippers, and from time to time one of the birds screams when an accidental blow of a pebble hits its head or beak. Young birds move along with adults, and boldly enter the water. They used to swim in the sea and catch prey, but they never moved away from the coast. Now something new awaits them – a long journey to unfamiliar places, wanderings far from the land. The flock of huge seal-like birds disappeared into the water, and the only signs of their stay on the shore were smudges of caustic white droppings and the bones of one of the young birds, gnawed by crabs – this one died due to lack of food and was pecked by gulls.
Once in the water, gannetwhales acquire the lightness of their ancestors – birds that could fly. Their flippers begin rhythmically flapping up and down, and huge streamlined bodies fly in the water column, stretching their long beaks forward. In the water, the birds are not cold - its temperature will never drop as much as it happens on land. Gannetwhales will spend the whole winter in the ocean, and will return to their native coast only next spring. The only danger that the weather can prepare for them is the formation of continuous ice sheets, where it is impossible to find free water in order to float up and breathe. Therefore, huge birds will stay at the edge of the floating ice and only occasionally crawl out onto the ice floes to rest.
The keelut’s winter coat began to grow. For now, it looks untidy yet – a “horsecloth” of white fur has already grown on the back and sides, and from it shreds of short red summer wool fall out, and the head and belly are still rusty with separate patches of white fur. But soon he will completely change his coat to winter one, which is much warmer and thicker than summer fur.
The geese are getting more and more worried. More and more often they take off into the air and circle over the river, but then they land again in the meadow and nibble the last green blades among the withered brownish grass. Finally they all come together, stretch their necks and start screaming. Birds seem to forget about everything in the world, uttering this call, so they do not notice how a predator is sneaking up on them. The keelut managed to get close to their flock, hiding behind low-growing bushes, and then rushed forward and grabbed a young bird that had grown this summer. But it was his last goose this year. The traveler geese, frightened by the predator, took off with their whole flock. The cries of the goose flapping in the teeth of the keelut were drowned out by the thunder of thousands of wings, and around the predator as if a blizzard of numerous white birds with black edges of wings swirled around. For a few seconds, the keelut frightened by this crouched down on the ground and flattened his ears – so loud was the flapping of the wings of the flying up geese. The second keelut, the female adhered to this male, hastened to take part in the feast, ignoring the grandiose spectacle of the nature unfolding around them.
A huge mass of birds looked like a white cloud against the background of low autumn rain clouds. The birds flew higher and higher, and lined up gradually in many skeins, heading south. It’s time for them to fly away. The couple of keeluts did not pay attention to this – they were busy eating the caught bird.
In their migrations, traveling geese try to follow natural landmarks. Therefore, they fly the way their ancestors flew for centuries – along the coast and further to the south. The terrain under their wings is gradually changing: treeless tundra is replaced by crooked forests at the southern tip of Baffin Island. To the south, crooked forests are gradually replaced by real taiga – a belt of coniferous forests, which looks almost unsuitable for the life of waterfowl: only in some places rivers flow and swamps are found in the heart of the forest. Rounded granite boulders tower among the trees in various parts of the forest – it is a legacy of the severe ice age at the turn of the Holocene and Neocene, 20 million years before this time. At this time, a huge common flock of geese has already divided into several ones, and each flock of birds follows its own route.
For the night, one of the flocks of traveler geese descended to the river cutting through the green carpet of the taiga. In the middle of the river bed a huge granite rock towers, and the cold waters of the river flow around it from two sides – this is a great place to wait out the night. Flocks of geese land on this stone; soon it becomes very crowded there, and it seems as if snow has fallen on the top of this stone – the birds cover it with a continuous carpet of their bodies. Tired after the flight, the birds immediately fall asleep, hiding their heads under the wings, and only some of them remain alert during the first hours of rest, but then they also fall asleep. The birds stayed on this stone for just one night, and the wildwater reliably protects them from uninvited guests from the forest. In the morning the birds fly ashore, nibble the grass there and then take off again. Today the birds are were lucky – no night predators flew to them, and none of the local predators attacked them during their feeding. When the geese took off, a large adult missopeho appeared from the forest, followed by two smaller beasts. The female with the cubs came to the river, but only to see the geese off with a hungry look. It is possible that one of the geese could be a good snack for this predator. Long, sharp fangs protrude from the mouth of the missopeho – this beast specializes in large prey. But, if possible, this felid can easily get a sleeping goose by simply hitting it with a heavy paw. But many more geese die from smaller predators when spending the night in these forests...
A few days later, a flock of traveler geese crossed a relatively dry watershed bordering the rivers of the Arctic Ocean basin and gathered at the southern shore of Mishe-Nama Lake. Once this place was a sea bay, and its water still contains a small amount of salt, especially in the depths. In addition, several species of animals of clearly marine origin still live in the waters of the lake. In the Neocene, in autumn and spring this place becomes very lively for a short time: on the shores of the lake a huge number of migratory birds from Baffin Island and the northern outskirts of the continent gather. The lake is an important point on the migratory routes of North American birds, and some flocks even spend the winter here, especially during warm winters. In addition, this vast freshwater body affects the climate of the surroundings – winters are milder here than at the same latitude inland, although they are more snowy. The lake does not freeze completely, so those who winter here can find food in its waters. At Mishe-Nama Lake, the routes of migratory birds divide: some species, like traveler geese, turns inland and follow the river valleys to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and further to Central America and across the Strait of Panama, while others gradually migrate to the east and south-east and fly along the coast of the continent. In the meantime, the geese stay here for several days, feeding on grass and aquatic plants that still remain at the bottom near the shores of the lake.
On the very first day, when the birds were feeding in shallow water near the gently sloping shore, a small wave passed over the surface of the water. Alarmed by this, the birds swam to the sides, and a large long-billed bird, more like a seal than a bird, got out on the shore. The pointed beak and the skin covered with small feathers still indicate that this is a bird, although in physique and size it resembles a small seal. This is one of the inhabitants of the lake, which once penetrated here from the ocean, while the lake was just a sea bay. Once in isolation, this creature was greatly decreased in size compared to its marine relatives and now is quite deservedly named as dwarf gannetwhale. Dragging its body with effort along the ground, the flightless bird crawled to the side, and two more birds of the same appearance crawled out after it. The young geese hatched this year got worried and began to cackle loudly. Some of them had to see how gannetwhales from the coast swam into the rivers while hunting for fish and frightened goose broods with their formidable breaks. But these were vague memories from the past. However, young geese prefer to stay away from these strange creatures. Adult birds, however, did not pay attention to their new neighbors and continued to nibble the autumn grass on the shore. They knew from experience that dwarf gannetwhales are harmless, if not agitated. Seeing that the adult birds were not afraid of these clumsy creatures, the young geese calmed down and soon began to feed next to the resting gannetwhales.
Under water, these birds give the geese much more trouble. Feeding in shallow water, geese stir up bottom silt and scare away small fish, which are hunted by dwarf gannetwhales. These birds often accompany flocks of feeding geese and watch for fish to swim out of their hiding places, which can be easily captured then. At this time, robust birds, rushing at their prey, often frighten the geese, forcing them to spread to the sides with a frightened cackle. And some gannetwhales, using their superiority in size, turned this into a kind of game: having chosen a flock of feeding birds, they suddenly rush towards it and swim under the very surface of the water, forcing the birds to fly into the air. The dwarf gannetwhales themselves do not hunt geese, although there are some rare cases when, during their games, these birds pulled geese under the water, but almost immediately released them. Nevertheless, the games of these birds are watched by those who are much more interested in geese than in gannetwhales.
A flock of traveler geese feeds in shallow water near the shore. Birds break the thin crust of ice with their breasts when they swim and search for dying aquatic plants. By plunging their heads into the water, they extract soft stems of plants with brownish rags of leaves and swallow them greedily. This food is not very good, but in autumn nature cannot offer them any other food, so the geese have to be content with what they have. They feed in flocks, so it is impossible for a predator to get close to them unnoticed either from the ground or from the air: any of the birds will definitely notice it and sound the alarm. But in the water, the view is limited, and during feeding, the geese cover their eyes with eyelids, so they do not notice how a young dwarf gannetwhale is approaching them. Carefully taking a deep breath, the bird literally sneaks towards them along the shore, wanting to play. Having got up to a distance of several meters, it rushed forward, flapping it wings intensively, and moved fast to the geese under the very surface of the water, driving a wave in front of itself. From time to time, its wingtips emerge from the water and slap against its surface with each stroke.
Geese noticed that a strange underwater inhabitant was approaching them when a gannetwhale was very close. The bird managed to frighten off a flock of geese, which flapped their wings and began to take off with a loud indignant cackle. And at that moment, something happened that another participant in this incident expected. Taking off and screaming, the geese completely switched to this event and lost their vigilance for some moments. And the consequences of this were not long in coming. A brown body flashed in the air, merciless claws hit one goose, white and black feathers flew into the air, and the bird began flapping in the claws of an adult xeitl. This is a male – the owner of the nest on one rock on Baffin Island, in the place where the colony of traveler geese settled under his protection. He and his mate spend the winter here, near the coast of Mishe-Nama Lake, and his chicks flew away and now lead an independent life. There is no his nest here, so the xeitl is free to hunt where he sees fit. And now the traveler geese are not neighbors, but just prey.
Having perched on the tree with its prey, the predator began to pluck feathers from the carcass. Seeing its silhouette against the gray autumn sky, smaller birds rush to leave these places, and only the dwarf gannetwhale continues swimming in shallow water, looking for fish. A day after this event, the geese left the lake, but the xeitl will not remain without prey: the migration of birds continues for a long time, and even in winter it is possible to find a lot of prey here.
The geese made their next long stop at a large lake in the Great Plains. In the heart of the North American continent, a huge river flows, which in human epoch was called the Mississippi. It collects a significant part of the rainwater that falls on the continent, and carries a large amount of sediments into the Gulf of Mexico. Since the human time, the course of this river has changed greatly, and its traces are visible from a bird’s eye view: on the plains composed of soft sedimentary rocks, fragments of the ancient riverbed remain – numerous lowlands and some swamps and lakes of various sizes. Once these were the bends of the channel, but the river gradually made a new path, and these places appeared separated from the main channel and gradually silted up. The significant part of bird migrating routs stretches above the huge river walley.
Traveler geese make a stop at one of these lakes. It separated from the main channel only about a thousand years ago, and it still retains a rich freshwater fauna, although it has begun to fill with sediment gradually – the shores of the lake are already very swampy, and it is quite difficult for terrestrial animals that cannot fly to reach relatively dry hills overgrown with forest. Here the geese settle down to have a rest. This lake is located well south of their distant homeland, so, despite the fact that the middle of autumn has already passed, it is very warm here – warmer than on Baffin Island in the middle of summer. Traveler geese are surrounded by representatives of heat-loving fauna – numerous colorful ducks, forest birds and even parrots. Balsam parakeets, bright green with yellow belly, scream and squabble in the branches of trees, searching for fruits that have not yet been eaten by local birds. Like traveler geese, these parakeets are natives of the north, simply stopped to have a rest during the long flight to wintering grounds. Their path overlaps only partially with the traveler goose’s migration route: the parakeets fly south along the Mississippi Valley, but then turn east and fly along the southern coast of North America to Cuba and Great Antigua. Geese don’t fly that far. Their wintering grounds are much closer – this is the vast Mississippi Delta.
A flock of traveler geese, shining with white plumage in the sun, swims on the lake, surrounded by feathered natives and migrants. Local ducks and geese look gaudily bright next to snow-white geese, whose dazzling white plumage is only emphasized by black flight feathers. From time to time, small grebes appear among the ducks, diving deftly in search of small fish and aquatic insects. Rails with disproportionately large legs dexterously run through the reed beds, and majestic and graceful figures of herons of various species rise on the trees. Some of them roam the shallow water in search of prey, while others freeze among the thickets of water lilies, hunting for careless fish. But the birds themselves must also be careful, because the enemy can lurk under water.
Salvinia ferns floating on the surface of the water swayed, and the muzzle of a monster appeared from under the water, covered with corneous armor and slippery mud. Small eyes stared blankly at the world around while the underwater inhabitant moved into the warm shallow water. The leathery flaps of the nostrils opened, and exhaust air whistled from the creature’s lungs: the last time this animal took a breath an hour before its appearance in shallow water. Powerful paws, straining, dragged out of the muddy depths a huge thick shell covering the back of the creature. This is one of the most terrible enemies of the local inhabitants - a huge trapperturtle. It is autumn now, and the heat of the sun is clearly not enough for it to lead a full life of a reptile. Sluggish at this time of the year, the large turtle appears on the surface only in the warmest midday hours to bask in the sun and to lie in warm water near the shore. At this time of year, the reptile’s appetite is severely suppressed, and it lives mainly due to its fat reserves accumulated in the summer. Due to the slow metabolism, prolonged abstinence from food is tolerated by it very easily. Nevertheless, geese, like the other inhabitants of the reservoir, still stay away from the huge turtle – the behavior of this creature can be unpredictable, and it is unknown what exactly can provoke a reptile to attack. It happened that some geese all the same ended up in the reptile’s stomach, but this most often happened in the spring, when the sun warms hotter, and the turtle warms up better. Even an animal comparable to it in strength will not be able to escape from its monstrous jaws. The age of this turtle is almost one hundred years. It has reached the peak of its powers and is rightfully at the top of the local food pyramid. Its relatives and numerous descendants live in various areas of the lake. Of course, there are other predators in these places – for example, balam, a large representative of the felid family. However, in terms of longevity, no one can compare with this huge reptile.
The turtle is not the only predator of this area. Where four-legged predators will not penetrate, a feathered one can easily get there. Geese stay on the lake overnight, and one of the local predators decided to take advantage of the short-term abundance of prey.
The trapperturtle basked in shallow water until the evening, and did not even pay attention to a couple of small birds that were busily jumping on its shell and stirring up a layer of filamentous algae that had grown on it, probing for small snails and insect larvae. Shortly before sunset, the gigantic reptile stirred and disappeared into the depths of the lake. In the evening, the birds gradually fly to the places of overnight stays. Even the loud-voiced balsam parakeets stopped screaming and perched in close groups on the top of the tree closer to the trunk, so as not to be caught by nocturnal predators like owls. Traveler geese settled down for the night on one of the islands among the marshes near the shores of the lake. They chose a good place to sleep – it is difficult for a ground-dwelling predator to get into these places. A large animal that poses a danger to geese can easily get bogged down in a quagmire and die.
On the viscous clay soil at the edge of the quagmire, there are lots of footprints, by which it is possible to find out who lives in this place. Numerous elegant double lines of small footprints are left by songbirds, which are found in great number here. There are several tracks of large, almost cross-shaped footprints left by herons. Many tracks of triangular footprints of various sizes belong to ducks and geese. The tracks of various mammals – rodents and small carnivores – are mixed with bird tracks. Occasionally, large footprints of balam are visible on the mud – it is a formidable reminder of his place at the top of the food pyramid. But there is another kind of footprints here – lines of triangular traces of a special sort. The three toes of the owner of these traces are imprinted on the dirt in a very peculiar way: this creature seems to want to confuse the most experienced pathfinder. At first glance, it seems that on the feet of this creature, two toes are turned forward, and one is turned back, and this one was moving away from the water. In fact, everything is quite the opposite, and the track of footprints leads right to the water. But the track breaks off near the edge of the water – this creature can fly, and it just flew over the swamp and landed somewhere on the island. Settling down for the night, the geese did not notice anything suspicious. They chose a place on the shore, away from the trees. They don’t know that the predator is already waiting for them. Excellent hearing and keen eyesight help it to choose the moment when prey expects its attack in least degree. And the ability to wait long and patiently helps the predator to use the moment of surprise on the hunt.
Traveler geese gathered for the night in one large flock. From the outside, it seems as if snow has fallen on the ground, although in fact snow in these latitudes falls only on the coldest winter nights and stays on the ground for only a few hours – until the morning sun warms up in full force. The voices of geese gradually calm down, and more and more birds fall asleep, putting their heads under their wings. One of the males did not sleep longer than the others. He looked around at the rustling in the bushes, trying to notice signs of danger in time. But gradually he also began to fall asleep: fatigue makes itself felt. Laying his head under the wing, he managed to notice some vague silhouette that flashed among the bushes. But it could be all in its head: at that time a light breeze blew, and it was quite possible that it was just a shrub branch swinging. The goose put his head under his wing and fell asleep.
The weak light of the stars flashed in the eyes of the predator, which had long been waiting in the wings, standing motionlessly among the bushes. Thanks to its keen hearing, it knew that the geese fell asleep one by one – it could even hear the even breathing of sleeping birds. And sensitive vision helped it to make out the silhouettes of sleeping birds, although their white plumage already made them noticeable against the background of plants. The predator took a springy light step on long legs and got out of its hiding place. It surveyed the flock of geese, choosing the prey for itself. The entire body of the night thief is covered with soft plumage – this is the muan, the large owl that lives on the plains. Even in the light of the stars, it is clearly seen that the plumage of this bird is very light – it is a dweller of tall grass, not a forest. The predator left its habitual residence precisely for the sake of the opportunity to get easy prey. This is a young male living on the edge of the territory of one of the adult birds. He is already almost an outcast, so hunting in conditions unusual for his species has become a common activity for him.
When one of the geese stirred and spread its wings, muan froze in place, waiting for it to calm down and fall asleep again. Muan spends a lot of time on the ground and rarely flies up to trees, even if they grow around. The legs of this bird are well adapted for chasing prey by running and for killing it. From forward-facing toes, the inner one turned into a murder weapon, resembling the claw of small carnivorous dinosaurs. The owl holds it up, and this creates the illusion of “back to front” footprints. The bird watches for suitable prey and is ready to stain claws with its blood. However, for this it needs to wait until the geese calm down.
It does not take long, and the owl has already chosen a suitable prey for itself – a large goose not far from the edge of the flock. Such prey is enough to no longer look for food this night and not feel hungry all next day. The bird of prey took off silently, covered the distance separating it from the prey with only some flaps of its wings, and fell from the air on the chosen goose, putting forward its long legs with terrifying claws. The sleeping bird did not even feel pain – long claws instantly killed it, tearing the lungs and piercing its heart. Some more wing beats and the muan took to the air again, dragging its prey in its claws. A sharp alarm call broke the silence of the night – the wing of the dead goose accidentally touched one of the sleeping birds, it woke up and noticed a predator. The signal was echoed by the rest of the birds, who instantly woke up and flapped their wings, cackling at the top of their lungs. But the predator didn’t care much anymore – he got the prey and now he was just looking for a suitable place to eat.
The roosting place of the geese, roaring in hundreds of throats, was left behind, and the muan threw his prey to the ground. A sharp claw ripped open the skin and the owl’s beak sank into the warm flesh of the prey. The muan tears off chunks of meat and greedily swallows them along with the skin and feathers. Such large prey falls to him infrequently, and the predator experiences something like satisfaction, tearing up the dead goose. And somewhere aside, more than a hundred meters away from the place of his feast, the disturbed goose flock continues to scream. But there were no new attacks that night, so the birds gradually calmed down and continued to sleep.
In the morning, when the geese flew away from the lake, a flock of balsam parakeets followed them. Unlike geese, which line up in even skeins with a pronounced leader, parakeets fly in a disorderly flock, continuously calling out to their relatives. Loud-voiced birds are not the best companions of geese, but they warn other migrants in time about the appearance of raptors. And sometimes these birds even pounce on the air pirate with the whole flock and pinch it by the wings and tail, accompanying the attack with loud vocalization. This tactic is bearing fruit: the birds have almost no enemies left in the air. Therefore, for the sake of their own safety, geese can tolerate the neighborhood with parakeets. But, unfortunately, these birds travel together for a very short time – soon the parakeets turn east and follow their own route. And somewhere far ahead, the waters of the Gulf of Mexico gleam under the rays of the sun. Below, a single riverbed split into several branches and many islands appeared in it, overgrown with swamp grasses and even trees. The river valley expanded greatly, forming a significant number of lakes, swamps and channels. With all the stops, the birds finally arrived in early November to wintering place in the Mississippi Delta – this is the final destination of their journey.
The flock of birds is gradually descents. Herons and ducks of various species fly up to meet them, and the whole flock of geese lands on the surface of a large channel. Their journey is over, and the birds can rest and feed after a long flight. But now they have to survive the winter in a world full of dangers...

Winter and early spring

Life in the south is fundamentally different from the one which the traveler geese led in their northern homeland. The Mississippi Delta is located in tropical latitudes, and the ocean has a significant influence on the climate of this area. Warmth and significant rainfall cause abundant growth of trees and grasses, and the even distribution of heat and rain throughout the seasons promotes the growth of evergreen forests on the islands of the delta and allows terrestrial and aquatic grasses to grow abundantly, providing food for many herbivorous animals. Therefore, in the Mississippi Delta, such a number of birds remain for the winter that the meager tundra of Baffin Land would hardly feed.
Traveler geese more and more often disperse along the shore in search of food. Large flocks of these birds remained together only for the first time after arrival, but later the birds simply dispersed along the channels and lakes of the delta, and their small groups stand out against the background of local inhabitants only by their strict white plumage, shaded by the blackness of feathers on the wings. Here, adult birds have completely lost contact with the young, and only birds of formed pairs stay together with each other. But even now, the birds that flew to winter together remain within earshot of the voices of their relatives – predators are everywhere, and geese are used to staying in groups.
The abundance of sun and water promotes the thriving growth of herbaceous plants on land and in the water – it is this circumstance that allows life to flourish in the Mississippi Delta. During wintering, geese willingly feed on duckweed, which covers the surface of channels with a slow current, and nibble on underwater plants as deep as their neck length allows them. They are not the only ones that eat plants. From time to time, other land-dwelling and semi-aquatic animals also come here to feed. One of the most characteristic four-legged inhabitants of the delta is a large forest beast hicotoca, similar to a wild boar. This is a very big large-headed beast with wide hooves, able to swim and move on marshy soil. In its coloration, the hicotoca vaguely resembles the badger of the human era: a white stripe bordered by black stretches along the muzzle of the beast, and the body has a gray background color. These animals prefer to eat soft shrubs and large semi-aquatic grasses, and often graze belly-deep in water, not paying attention to geese swimming nearby. From the mouth of the hicotoca, huge tusks protrude, which are usually used to dig up plants from the bottom of the river, but when the animal is attacked, they turn into a terrible weapon.
A herd of these beasts grazes along the banks of a slow-flowing stream, which is densely overgrown with floating plants. It is led by a huge male with a contrastingly colored head, leading a herd of several females and cubs of various ages. Animals communicate with each other by snorting, grunting and purring. As long as nothing threatens them, they allow themselves to relax a little. One of the females lies down in the water, and only her head and part of her back are visible on the surface. A few months old cub swims next to her – it was born this year, and so far is completely dependent on its mother. Frightening tusks have already begun to grow on it, although they only slightly protrude from under its lip. Someday it will become as formidable as its father – the leader of the herd with huge tusks, one of which is broken and heavily worn off at the tip. But for now, it is interested in almost everything in the world, including these large white birds that swim on the surface of the water next to them. However, the mother, with her inviting rumbling and poking her muzzle, does not allow it to move too far away from her. It can be dangerous in the water, especially for creatures of its size.
Several traveler geese fed on floating plants near a herd of hicotocas. Suddenly, right in front of one of the geese, a whirlpool appeared on the surface of the water, sucking in a whole bush of floating water fern. The goose cackled in fright and swam away. Hearing the goose cackle, one of the hicotoca females jumped to her feet, and the second one called the cub to her, ready to protect it from any danger.
A huge body moves under water, and water lily leaves and floating plants sway on the surface of the channel. However, this is not an enemy at all, but rather a friend. This creature has a blunt muzzle, strong rounded fins and a heavy constitution – it is clearly not adapted to catching up and killing. But the wide mouth and long intestines help it to process a large amount of plant matter. This creature is a very large manatee fish, one of the local inhabitants. Turning its belly up, it feeds on floating plants, sucking them in from below with its huge mouth. This peaceful, slow-moving fish represents a danger only to those who cannot swim to the side when it eats: snails and larvae of aquatic insects. Occasionally, ducklings or chicks of waders get into the mouth of these fishes, but any creature of a larger size will hardly appear there.
Due to its voracity, the manatee fish is an important element of the Mississippi Delta ecosystem. It cleans the channels of the watercourses and the bottom of the lakes from plants, thereby preventing the overgrowth of reservoirs. In addition, the droppings of this fish are a valuable fertilizer that promotes the growth of marsh plants. In its appearance and place in the ecosystem, this fish is very similar to the manatees of the human era. But these beasts appeared to be vulnerable to anthropogenic changes in nature and died out at the end of the human era. In the Neocene, evolution gave rise to their peculiar ecological analogue, which turned out to be extremely successful in the struggle for existence.
Where schools of manatee fishes feed, areas of clear water quickly appear on the surface of the reservoir, free from floating plants and water lily leaves. Fishes literally crawl along the bottom, supporting on strong fins, and eat away thickets of underwater vegetation, gradually moving along the coast. When the fishes feed in shallow water, their scaly backs and fins appear from under the water, and the water splashes under the slaps of large tails.
It often rains in the Mississippi Delta in winter. It usually ends after a short time, unlike the prolonged autumn and spring rains of Baffin Island. But here, in the south, the rain downpours on the ground with a peculiar fury. Streams of water carry clay suspension from the banks, and it makes the water cloudy. Only manatee fishes thrive in the rain, swimming out into the shallows and eating the plants close to the shore as the rain water runs down their sides and washes over their gills. Geese are not afraid of rain: feeling the approach of it, they actively preen themselves and grease their plumage with secretions of the coccygeal gland, so during the rain they do not even interrupt feeding. They are more concerned that the noise of the rain may hide the approach of a predator. Therefore, when a hicotoca comes to the river bank where the flock feeds, the geese are at first frightened by the suddenness of its appearance. But soon the panic stops, and the geese continue to nibble on the grass. Hicotoca enters the water, pulls out the rhizome of a water lily with his fangs and begins to chew it with pleasure. Following this beast, several more ones appear – they are all members of the same family group. The geese look back on other animals that appeared following the first one only so as not to get in their way. Hicotoca does not feed on geese, but it may well kill a bird simply by negligence, accidentally trampling it on the shore. Even young birds are not afraid of them – the skewhorns of Baffin Island are about the same size, and the birds are used to their presence at home, and know how to behave next to them. While herbivores search for food in the river, geese stay close to them – it's safer that way. And the hicotoca, with its dagger-shaped fangs, is able to stand up for itself. And if there are cubs in their herd, there are only few predators risky enough to attack them – when protecting its cub, the hicotoca female puts deep stab wounds with its canines.
However, not all dangers can be avoided even in close proximity to such reliable guards. Moreover, they are not always there at the right time. And there are creatures in the delta that are not even afraid of the hicotoca.
The geese gathered on the surface of the lake – an oxbow lake remained from the former bed of one of the channels. In its still, stagnant water, in the bright sun, duckweed and water fern grow intensively, and birds feed on these plants. However, none of them pays attention to the greenish-brown object of an elongated shape, similar to a sunken log. A layer of duckweed and floating fern covers the surface of the water and makes it difficult to distinguish its outlines. Until recently, this object was absent on the surface of the water, and it slowly moves near the very surface of the water, barely touching it. Its movement is difficult to differ from the movement of floating plants driven by the wind, so nothing alarms even the usually cautious geese.
Soon the hicotocas come to the lake. This is not the herd that the geese saw near the main channel of the channel, but the neighboring one: several clans of these animals live in the delta, and their territories are usually separated by river branches and swamps. This herd is weaker and smaller: a male, two females and two cubs born in the spring. The animals came here to graze, and the male boldly enters the water. A small fish swam out from under his feet, raising a cloud of silt from the bottom. The hicotoca male got in the water and began to gather aquatic fern from the surface. The beast has an appetite to the delicate greenery of this plant. From time to time he chews on snails that accidentally appeared among the plants. Females also enter the water and begin to feed, followed by cubs. They are able to swim well, and willingly search for food in the water, imitating the actions of adults. One of the cubs, having stuck its muzzle into the water several times, accidentally took water into its nose and began to sneeze. It climbed onto its mother’s back and perched on her body as if on a small island. The second cub continued to search for food, not noticing that it appeared too close to the elongated object hidden under duckweed and fern layer. The cub is too young and inexperienced, so it did not notice anything suspicious.
And then the surface of the water seems to explode. The hicotoca cub rushed to its mother, but did not manage to swim even a meter. In a matter of seconds, a long armored body burst out of the water, long jaws closed around the neck of the animal, and sharp teeth tore its skin. An underwater predator pulled the prey to the depths, and only a blurring blood stain remained on the surface of the water. The herd of beasts ran away, squealing loudly, and the geese took off and flew ashore. A wide tail fin splashed among the floating plants, and it got quiet again. The hicotocas climbed onto the shore and rushed away from the water. They are young animals, and the unexpected appearance of a predator frightened them. On land, they feel safe, so they begin to threaten an invisible predator: they open their mouths and make jerky snoring sounds, displaying their fangs. But in response, only a few bubbles rose from the depths, and floating plants began to fill the patch of free water surface gradually. The predator caused significant damage to this group: now there is only one cub left in it. Once there were three of them, but one of them had died of illness a long time ago, and now the second one has falled prey of an underwater monster. Despite the threatening displays, adult animals are still frightened by the sudden appearance of a predator, and now they will not appear near this lake for several days. And the geese fly to another lake – away from the jaws hidden underwater.
The “log” hiding under the water appeared to be a sturdy stegoichthys male – a gar of the Neocene epoch, a relic from the relics. Already in the human era, gars were relics of ancient eras, and the ancestors of stegoichthys managed to survive the difficult times of the biological crisis caused, among other things, by human activities. But stegoichthys is the only descendant of this primitive fish group in the ichthyofauna of Neocene.
Having drowned its prey, the predator began to tear it to pieces. There are numerous teeth in the mouth of the stegoichthys, but they are all piercing and pointed ones – with such teeth, it is convenient to hold the struggling prey, but it is impossible to bite off pieces. Therefore, the fish deals with its prey in a crocodile way: clinging to the protruding part of the prey’s body, the fish twists the piece of flesh with sharp lateral movements and swallows the meat. Soon, only the spine with shreds of meat remained from the corpse of the hicotoca cub, which the predator could not tear off. But the small fishes, surrounding a predator, tearing its prey, already began to pluck them. They are too small and nimble for a giant adult stegoichthys to catch them. Therefore, they fearlessly dart dangerously close to the teeth of a predator, picking up shreds of meat floating in the water.
Having eaten everything that is possible, the stegoichthys swam to the depths, slowly waving its tail. Now, when the weather is cool and rainy, the swallowed meat of prey will be enough for him for a couple of weeks. Now he needs to find a secluded place where he can lie down and where his relatives will not disturb him. But during his rest, the reservoir will not become safe: his place will soon be taken by a female of the same species. She is younger and smaller than a male who has just hunted, therefore she usually hunts near the other shore, or appears here only when the male is full and does not pose a danger to her. A couple of young stegoichthys individuals also lives in the same oxbow lake – these ones only accidentally escaped the jaws of the largest individuals. Their fate will become clear only over time, but now there is a high probability that they will simply be eaten by a larger individual. They can be saved only by the death of an adult male, or a heavy flood of the river, which will allow them to leave this oxbow lake and go into the mainstream of the river. This already happened a few years ago, when an adult female settled in the lake: she replaced the old individual, which managed to move into the riverbed. This reservoir will not provide with food more than two adult stegoichthyses, so young fish are most likely doomed. This is the price to pay for being at the top of the pond food pyramid.
Stegoichthys is a quarrelsome fish that, without hesitation, uses its teeth during intraspecific skirmishes. However, evolution made sure that these fish inflicted as little injury on each other as possible. The hard scales of their ancestors turned into several rows of armor plates, making stegoichthys looking a bit like sturgeons. A row of shell plates stretches along the back of the fish, and one additional row on each side is also present. Even the pointed teeth of their relatives will not bite through such armor; however, many old individuals wear many scars and scratches on their armor – these are marks of past fights for territory and for food, or too violent mating games. However, these fish themselves do not seem to suffer from these markings. But for other inhabitants of the Mississippi Delta, the neighborhood of stegoichthys causes certain inconveniences. The manatee fishes, distinguished by considerable longevity, suffer greatly from stegoichthys. Juveniles of this species often fall prey to predatory stegoichthys. Larger specimens are able to escape the teeth of adults, but the clashes leave them with ugly scars on their flanks. On the bodies of large manatee fishes more than half a century old, areas of scale cover are noticeable, where even rows of large scales are replaced by uneven rows of smaller ones – these are healed marks of underwater fights with stegoichthys. It is even possible that the predators that inflicted these wounds on them are also still alive and even swim in the same channel with these manatee fish specimens: it is a common thing for a stegoichthys to pass a half-century mark. Fish of both these species grow slowly, but live for a very long time.
The seasons are very pronounced at high latitudes. The most extreme case of their manifestation is the winter and summer of the polar latitudes, accompanied by long polar day and polar night. At low latitudes, the length of the day almost does not change, and the seasons differ only in the amount of precipitation. Differences in summer and winter temperatures in the Mississippi Delta are very weak. But a huge river accumulates water from a vast territory of the continent, and during the year, the composition of the water in it changes due to the fact that it rains or snow begins to melt in various parts of its basin. Changes in the amount and chemical composition of river water determine the rhythms of life of the inhabitants of the delta. At the beginning of winter, the river still flows in its banks, but by the middle of winter everything changes. Rains in the southern part of the continent cause a rise of the water level, and this has a huge impact on the lives of the inhabitants of the delta. When the Mississippi floods, many ponds and lakes connect to the main channel, and the inhabitants of these places have the opportunity to leave the closed space of the reservoir and move into the main channel of the river.
Land-dwelling animals have a hard time during periods of river floods. All those who know how to live in trees, involuntarily switch to an arboreal way of life. The massive hicotocas cannot do this, but they are not afraid of water. These animals are good swimmers and roam among the trees in the water belly-deep, boldly swimming across the overflowing channels. The only thing they can be afraid of is large predatory fishes, which get the opportunity to swim almost anywhere they want, when the water level rises. Therefore, while moving through the flooded forest in the delta, the females try to drive the cubs into the middle of the herd and keep from the edges, depriving predators of the opportunity to attack the cubs. When moving in deep water, the cubs try to swim next to their mothers and even hold onto the strong skin of adult animal with their teeth, slightly biting it.
However, traveler geese, like many other waterfowl and near-water birds, are not so worried about the flood. They can nibble the leaves of terrestrial grasses and shrubs appeared under water, and move by swimming. Moreover, terrestrial predators will not touch them now – they stay away from the water, locked up on small islands in the delta, or even left the river banks at the beginning of the flood. However, it is better never forget about the danger – the flood drove out land-based predators from the delta, but air and underwater predators still remain. And it is much easier for them to hunt during the flood of the river: many shelters were flooded, and small animals seek salvation among floating plants or trees. And such animals will definitely have an enemy.
Traveler geese swim in flocks among the trees of the delta sticking out in the water. They still keep in small groups, like most of the time they are on the wintering grounds. They are surrounded by birds of local waterfowl species, for which the flooding of the river is the usual order of things. The wintering of traveler geese is gradually coming to an end, and they begin to prepare for the journey to the north, feeding actively. Islets of floating plants swim past the birds – a significant part of this biomass will get into the ocean. Birds gather plants from the surface of the river and eat the leaves of shrubs sticking out of the water. During the feeding, one young bird swam too far from the flock. The river water is cloudy from clayey suspension washed off the banks, so the bird does not see what is happening directly below it. But its movements are perfectly perceived by the lateral line of a predatory fish. None of the others even looked about when there was a faint splash and this bird disappeared failed to utter even a sound. The young stegoichthys, having swam away from the oxbow pond, took advantage of the chance that fate gave it: the fish avoided the teeth of large relatives and managed to get prey, which now belongs only to it. Having dragged the bird to the bottom, the fish tore it into pieces and swallowed it. Fishes have a slow metabolism, and this goose is enough for a young stegoichthys for several days until it swims to the river, where its new life will begin. If it manages to survive the next few years, it can expect to a full long life as the apex predator of the ecosystem.
Some time later, the river returns to its banks. Floods like this don’t happen that often, lasting just over two weeks in January of the rainiest year. However, young stegoichthys fishes inhabiting the river and surrounding water bodies always use this event for settling. In small reservoirs, they have a real opportunity to “weather the storm” at the most vulnerable age, when their size allows adults of the same species to swallow them. But with age, the fishes migrate to the mainstream. It becomes more difficult for geese and other migratory birds, as well as animals living here, to live and eat during the years of large floods. But these difficulties are temporary, and sooner or later life returns to the usual order of things.
The Mississippi flood is the most important event of the year for manatee fishes. They belong to the suckerfish family and, despite living in the lower reaches of the river, have retained a love for clear water. They can live and feed almost all year long in the slowly flowing warm channels of the lower reaches and the delta of Mississippi, but winter rains awaken the procreation desire in them. Oxygen-rich water stimulates changes in fish behavior, and massive manatee fishes begin to transform. Their coloration becomes brighter, their backs darken, and in males numerous tissue tubercles appear on the head and at the base of the pectoral fins. Large fishes gather in schools and gradually migrate to the main channel of the river. While the water is still cloudy, they simply stick together, exchanging touches and chirring sounds. Fishes become excitable and react to various stimuli in the most unpredictable way. When one of the traveler geese landed on the water right above the school of manatee fishes, several large males jumped out of the water and splashed back loudly. This performance caused panic among local birds, and herons in one of the neighboring trees responded to the jumps of huge fish with loud vocalizations.
Some more days passed, and a flock of traveler geese, having decided to search for food in one of the channels, did not land on the water in that place. The birds noticed the wide backs of manatee fishes under water and decided to look for food somewhere to the side – away from these giants. However, manatee fishes do not stand still now: their flocks gather in the river channel and in its deepest branches. The water has become clear again, and this is the signal to start their own journey. These fish have retained the behavioral traits of their ancestors and prefer to spawn not in silt, but on pebbly bottom areas in clear water. Therefore, after the winter rains and the flood of the river, they move to spawn in the upper reaches of the Mississippi tributaries. While these fishes are not in the delta, underwater vegetation gets the opportunity to recover. The activity of giant fishes thins out underwater thickets and prevents the formation of dead zones in them, with highly polluted, slowly flowing warm water with low oxygen content. After their feeding, areas of well-lit river bottom, favorable for the life of aquatic plants, appear near the riverbank. During floods, a significant amount of organic matter is washed out of the delta into the Gulf of Mexico, which contributes to the development of marine phyto- and zooplankton, which increases the productivity of marine ecosystems. At the same time, the river channel does not become silted beyond measure, since the plants eaten by fish no longer retain silt and suspension in the river channel. Therefore, the activity of manatee fishes is extremely important for maintaining the stability of the Mississippi Delta ecosystem.
Gradually, the water begins falling, and numerous islands reappear in the delta. In some places, the river washed away some areas of the land, while in others, on the contrary, it formed new shoals and coastlines. It is a continuous process that has shaped the Mississippi Delta at various locations along the North American coast over thousands and millions of years, depending on the changes in the course of the river over time. Some of the inhabitants of the delta will return to their usual habitats, while others will have to develop completely new territories.
Traveler geese feel the upcoming changes in nature. Soon they also will have to go north, like the manatee fishes, but with the geese the journey will be much longer and more dangerous. In preparation for migration, birds enter into new mating alliances. Some birds flew here already widowed, others lost their mates on the way or in the wintering grounds, and some reached maturity only here and felt ready to start a family. Young and widowed birds begin to form pairs. They make it clear to potential mates that they are ready to tie themselves with family bonds and are suitable for raising offspring. Displaying their qualities, males cackle and flap their wings, trying to attract the attention of females. Sometimes two males meet near a potential mate at once. Then a serious battle for the favor of the female begins between them: the males begin to hiss and sometimes even pinch each other’s feathers, until one of them retreats and only one remains. However, in geese, the personal sympathies of the partners play an important role in the formation of a pair, so even the winner in a duel cannot always expect on attention from the side of the female. The behavior of different individuals is diverse and individual, and traveler goose females approach the choice of a mating partner in different ways. Some of them are easily led by fleeting sympathy – they will most likely have time to be disappointed in their choice: some ones in a few next days, and some only after an unsuccessful nesting in the north. Other birds are more specific in choosing a suitor, and it is likely that a couple formed in wintering grounds will persist for many years in a row.
Birds from previously formed pairs do not show their relationship so violently. Birds are quite satisfied of each other’s company: they simply preen each other’s feathers and stretch their wings, demonstrating their physical condition and the support of their partner. They will have to hatch chicks in the harsh conditions of the northern tundra, so the support and mutual understanding of breeding partners are very important. A week later, almost all the birds found their mates, and only a few single individuals still continue mating displays, meeting active resistance from the already formed pairs.
Pairs from different nesting sites and populations of the species meet in wintering areas. Therefore, pairs are often formed, in which partners hatched at a distance of tens and hundreds of kilometers from each other. Now many of these birds move to other colonies, and in some cases, they may even start their own nesting colony. Usually such a pair flies north to the colony of the male, since he usually dominates the family. However, sometimes it happens that an active female takes over in the family, and then the male leaves his colony and settles in a new nesting place.
February ends. Some of the native inhabitants of the Mississippi Delta prepare to nest. Ducks of various species begin mating displays while swimming among the fresh young greenery of aquatic plants. Some of them attract mates with bright coloration and feather decorations, while others use bizarre poses and loud calls. Traveler geese turn more and more worried – their biological rhythms signal the approach of the nesting season. Their behavior changes: birds begin to gather in large flocks, numbering many hundreds of individuals, scream and fly over the river. Having circled in the air, the birds land again on the surface of the water and continue feeding. This happens every day – the birds seem to try their strength and readiness for migration. Finally, at the beginning of March, they take off together and go north, following the Mississippi river valley. On the way, they will rest for several days at various places on the route in order to fly to Baffin Island in early April and begin the new year of the traveler goose.


Traveler goose (Chen migratorius)
Order: Anserine birds (Anseriformes)
Family: Ducks (Anatidae)

Habitat: fresh water bodies of North America; northern islands in the Arctic Ocean.
Along with ratites and galliforms, anserine birds belong to the most ancient birds on Earth: their first representatives appeared at the end of the Mesozoic. They survived the mass extinction of the end of the Cretaceous, which wiped out the dinosaurs and other reptiles that dominated the land and sea fauna.
In the Neocene, this situation repeated: anseriforms managed to survive both the era of anthropogenic pressure and climatic fluctuations. Since the beginning of the Neocene, they have restored their numbers and biological diversity, repopulating the places where they had previously disappeared. Among them, there are species of exotic appearance (especially at the islands), but most of them have retained the appearance and behavior typical of this group. One such species is the North American traveler goose.
The traveler goose is a descendant of the Ross’s goose (Chen rossii) of the Holocene epoch. It is a small goose – about 60 cm long, with a relatively short neck and a wingspan of up to 120 cm; the weight of an adult bird is slightly more than 1 kg. It retained the white plumage of its distant ancestor on the head, neck and torso; on the wings, only covert feathers are white, and primary and secondary flight feathers are black. In some individuals, the bases of the flight feathers are white. Occasionally, in flocks of ordinary-colored geese, individuals of the blue color morph come across: their plumage has a bluish-blue background color instead of white. The beak and legs are the decoration of the modest coloration of this bird: they have an intense pink color. The tip of the beak is black, and the male has a slightly larger black spot than the female. The male also has a slightly thicker beak.
This species feeds mainly on ground grasses and leaves of undersized polar shrubs. In water, it obtains food less frequently than other species – feeding mainly on invertebrates.
The traveler goose is a migratory species, hence its name. Its ancestor migrated between the American north and south, and the traveler goose behaves in the same way: it spends winters in the southeast and southwest of North America, as well as in the lower reaches of the great Mississippi River, and in the summer, it lives on the islands of the Arctic Ocean, raising its chicks there.
Like the wild geese of the Holocene, the traveler goose develops long and strong family ties between the male and the female. For many years, a pair attached to each other migrates together and raises offspring in the same territory. The nest of these geese is very simple – it is a depression lined with grass and fluff of the geese themselves. Usually such a nest is arranged among tall grass or shrubs. Geese of this species lay 4-6 eggs and incubate them for about 3 weeks. The male actively protects the nesting territory from strangers and, if necessary, is ready to pounce on animals that are larger than it. But he never takes part in incubation. Dried goslings leave the nest and follow their parents to the water; by the beginning of cold weather, they can already fly and migrate south with their parents.
The traveler goose is a large bird species: its colonies number up to several hundred nesting pairs, and in wintering areas, flocks of many thousands of birds form. It falls prey of many predatory birds and mammals of the Neocene North America, so many geese die in the first years of life. Sexual maturity comes in the second year of life, and life expectancy reaches 20-25 years.

This bird species was discovered by Bhut, the forum member.

Xeitl (Deinobuteo ketl)
Order: Accipitriformes (Accipitriformes)
Family: Accipitridae (Accipitridae)

Habitat: Alaska, Beringia, Arctic archipelago and tundras of North America.
After the anthropogenic crisis caused by deforestation, habitat destruction and excessive trapping, the birds of prey of Eurasia have yelded the leading position to the eagleravens (Aquillorax) and persist in the fauna only as specialized forms avoiding competition due to the peculiarities of their lifestyle. However, in the New World, they still firmly occupy the niche of large aerial predators, despite the appearance of various species of eagleravens. One representative of the birds of prey of North America is the xeitl, a descendant of a rough-legged buzzard (Buteo lagopus). The rough-legged buzzard survived the Ice Age quite successfully due to the ability to coexist with humans and the ability to switch from rodents to larger prey, birds. In the process of evolution, its North American descendant occupied the niche of large birds of prey in the tundra.
Xeitl is an eagle-sized bird: body length is 1 m, wingspan up 2.5 meters, weight up to 5 kg. Hence the name of the species: Xeitl is the mythical thunder bird of the Tlingit Indians. The coloration of the plumage is quite variable: from brownish-gray to almost white above; the ventral side is whitish with a dark pattern. Birds of different colors often form a pair, which can be mistaken for a manifestation of sexual dimorphism. The wings are wide, with rounded tips; tail is fan-shaped, of moderate length. The legs are feathered up to the very toes; the bases of the toes are covered with small feathers.
The voice of this species is a low grunt. The alarm signal is very characteristic: it’s a repeated short squeal. Usually, with such a signal, birds report the appearance of eagleravens or large predatory mammals on their territory. Xeitl is a monogamous bird; the pair stays together for many years in a row. Only immature birds remain alone.
The prey of this species includes birds of medium size, less often mammals. From birds, it prefers ducks, although occasionally it attacks herons or visits colonies of gannetwhales, where it eats dead birds or attacks young ones. Usually, an adult xeitl eats up to 500 grams of prey per day. It looks out for prey in flight, attacking from the air; rodents or hares may be chased on the ground for some time. The southern part of the population is sedentary, and the northern part migrates to the forests of the temperate zone for the winter. There, the xeitl competes in some measure with the valkyrie owl, but usually catches smaller prey. It happens that an owl kills the xeitl or drives it away from its prey. Relations with eagleravens develop quite tensely: in a one-on-one collision, a xeitl behaves aggressively towards these birds, but a pair of ravens usually forces it to abandon prey. However, at the nest, the xeitl is able to attack even a group of ravens, deisplaying its aggressiveness to them.
The breeding season begins in April. Young birds drive away rivals from females, sometimes it comes to fights in the air. Widowed males behave the same way. “Married” birds in the mating season limit themselves to formal display of mating behavior, but actively repair and renew the nest. Xeitl’s nest is most often located on rocks or trees (in the southern part of the range). It is made of grass and branches (the latter are more commonly used on the mainland). The same nest is used for years, sometimes even for several generations in a row. The clutch usually contains 4-5 eggs; the female incubates for 35 days. Usually 2-3 chicks survive – the strongest ones in the brood. In famine years, parents often manage to raise only one chick, the rest ones become victims of hunger and cannibalism. And it happens very rarely, that all the chicks survive. Young birds leave the nest at the age of 2 months, for another 3 weeks they learn to hunt with their parents. Sexual maturity occurs at 2 years. Females begin to breed immediately, males usually later, from 3 years. Life expectancy averages 23 years.

This bird species was discovered by Nick, the forum member.

Muan (Deinostrix muan)
Order: Owls (Strigiformes)
Family: Typical owls (Strigdae)

Habitat: plains of North America.
In human epoch, the number and diversity of birds of prey of orders Accipitriformes and Falconiformes greatly decreased. By the beginning of the Neocene, these groups of birds were represented only by small relict populations of the most common species, and in the future their diversity did not return to its previous level. As a result, the place of large birds of prey in many places was occupied by corvids and shrikes. Owls were more fortunate: small species were not so dependent on the size of prey and less whimsical in choosing nesting sites. By the middle of Neocene, they not only increased in size, but managed also to occupy some of the niches that previously belonged to the diurnal birds of prey. At Mexican Plateau, a large predator, the prairie groundowl (Deinostrix sphinga), lives in desert areas. To the north, it is replaced by its smaller relative – muan (the name of the species is the name of a bird of prey that was the messenger of the gods among the Maya Indians).
Muan is much smaller than its desert relative, and has not lost the ability to fly. Body length with tail is from 75 to 90 cm, and weight is about 1.5 kg. The wingspan is 90-120 cm. Wings are wide and rounded, tail is slightly rounded. The plumage of head, neck and chest is light gray with brown specks, belly is white. The upper side of body has a straw-yellow color with cross strokes on the feathers – it is an excellent camouflage coloring. Tail and primary feathers are darker: the strokes on them turn into broad spots. A large claw grows on the inner toe, which rises when walking and serves to kill prey.
Muan is a long-legged bird that runs quite well. However, unlike its desert relative, it flies well – the prairies are inhabited by predatory mammals also. When running, muan develops a speed of up to 25 km/h, and prefers not to fly away from danger, but to hide among the grass. While running, bird keeps the body horizontally. If the danger is great, muan takes off with a run. In flight, the silhouette of the bird resembles an eagle, differing only in the more rounded outlines of the head and long legs.
This species is a monogamous bird; female is larger than male. Muan often lives in small family groups (parents with grown-up chicks, young birds of the same brood, or an adult couple), and their members hunt together. This species feeds on large insects and small vertebrates (frogs, lizards, snakes, small birds and rodents), which the bird kills with a powerful blow of its paw, using a strongly curved sharp claw of the inner toe. Sometimes a group of muans can kill a juvenile deermara. Birds of this species have two peaks of daily activity – they hunt in the morning before noon and shortly before sunset. This weakens the competition with the larger marabou vulture, leading a daytime lifestyle. Sometimes muan goes on active defense and can fight off a single lupardus, or a young and inexperienced balam, striking them with claws and beak – most often, protecting the chicks. Each pair of birds claims its rights to the nesting territory with a loud and sharp hooting. Birds vocalize especially intensely in the early morning.
The breeding season is in early spring, in March-April. Displaying himself to the female, the male performs a courtship dance: he crouches in front of her, stomps and flaps his wings. In single males, stamping, squatting and wings flapping alternate with the pursuit of females. The nest is arranged on the ground in natural depressions or in partly destroyed rodent burrows. Birds behave very carefully near it, not giving away their own presence until the last possible moment. If the nest is spotted and is under threat, the incubating bird is able to attack even a larger predator, aiming its claws at the muzzle and eyes.
There are 2-3 large eggs with a white shell in the clutch. They are incubated alternately by both parents, immediately after laying the first egg, for 32-34 days. As a result, the chicks are hatched at different times, and the age difference reaches 3-4 days. Chicks hatch blind and helpless, covered with thick gray down. They develop quite slowly: their eyes open in the second week of life, and the feathers begin to grow at the age of one month. At the same time, chicks begin to defend themselves: they roll over on their backs and swing their legs sharply, trying to hook the enemy with a claw. At the same time, young birds begin to get on their feet and try to walk.
Usually parents manage to feed all the chicks. Two-month-old chicks leave the nest and start hunting with their parents. In January-February, they become independent, but they stay together until the sexual maturity – up to 2 years. Many young birds die at this time. Life expectancy is up to 28 years, separate birds live up to 30 years.

This bird species was discovered by Nick, the forum member.

Keelut (Keeluth americanum)
Order: Carnivora (Carnivora)
Family: Canidae (Canidae)

Habitat: tundra of North America, including the islands of the Arctic Archipelago.

Picture by Cossus

The human era turned out to be a time of trial for large predatory mammals. Hunting and habitat destruction, as well as a reduction in the number of prey, have led to the degradation of populations of large predatory mammals and their subsequent extinction. Predatory mammals of Neocene are the descendants of mainly small predators of the human epoch, which managed to maintain a rather high number of populations. In the north of Eurasia and North America, this species was the arctic fox (Alopex lagopus). Unlike large canids, it fed on small animals, and thanks to this it managed to survive the human era. And the ice age gave it a chance to settle further south, taking up new habitats. Therefore, by the Neocene the arctic fox had several descendants occupying various ecological niches. The niche of the wolf in the forest regions of Siberia and North America is occupied by by waheela. And one of the smaller descendants of the arctic fox is the keelut living in the tundra and forest tundra, which is one of the main predators in the ecosystem of these places (the name of the species is an evil spirit in Inuit mythology).
The keelut exceeds the size of its ancestor: the body length of an adult is 1 m, the tail is 40 cm, the height at the withers is 35 cm. Wool coloration in this species changes according the seasons: in summer, the short wool is reddish-grey or black with numerous intermediate variations, in winter it is thick, long and white. “Snowshoes” from thick wool grow on the legs in winter wool – this allows the animal to walk on the surface of the snow and not fall through, while chasing prey. In the north of the range, in the tundra, animals with light-colored summer fur are more common, while motley and black coloration is more typical for animals from the forest-tundra.
A significant part of the keelut diet is food of animal origin – the animal consumes plant food only at the end of summer and autumn, when the berries ripen. The tips of the teeth protruding from the mouth are visible even when the mouth is tightly closed. Keelut feeds mainly on rodents, hares, small ungulates and birds, attacking them from the ambush. This animal runs rather badly, but in winter, it easily moves on the snow. Sometimes it ravages nests and eats chicks – in spring and early summer, birds make up 65% of its diet. In addition, it does not disdain carrion, often eating the remains of prey of waheela (in the southern part of the range). The keelut lives in small groups, which consist of a breeding couple and their offspring, both young and grown. A new couple forms only after the death of one of the partners.
Estrus in this species begins at the end of winter - in February-March. At this time, males bark and howl loudly, displaying readiness for breeding and rights to the territory of the group. The hierarchy in the keelut family group is maintained very strictly, and this leads to a delay in the puberty of young animals. In keelut families, only dominant pairs breed; young animals become capable of reproduction only during independent life outside the parental family. Pregnancy lasts 60 days; there are 5-6 puppies in a litter. Other members of the pack help raise the offspring and bring food for the lactating female. This behavior improves the survival of offspring. Lactation lasts about 1 month, and at the age of six months the cubs are already independent and take part in hunting together with adult animals. Life expectancy is up to 11 years. The most part of animals dies much earlier: in childhood from the birds of prey attacks, or in any age at the fight against waheela or large felids.

This mammal species was discovered by Nick, the forum member.

Hicotoca (Hicotoca ferox)
Order: Artiodactyls (Artiodactyla)
Family: Peccaries (Tayassuidae)

Habitat: Florida and southern North America, Central America, tropical forests and swamps.
During the Cenozoic era, representatives of the peccary family experienced alternate times of evolutionary success and decline. In the human epoch, their diversity and range were significantly reduced, but the abundance and ecological plasticity of the surviving species turned out to be sufficient to survive in the conditions of anthropogenic pressure on wildlife. In the Neocene, the representatives of the peccary family became more diverse and occupied a whole range of ecological niches. Some members of the family acquired a peculiar appearance and developed interesting survival strategies.
Hicotoca, a semi-aquatic representative of the peccary family, lives in the tropical forests and marshy areas of North and Central America. It is a robust animal resembling a large long-legged pig with a long muzzle and large saber fangs protruding strongly from the mouth. Adult males weigh up to 400 kg, females – about 250 kg. The hooves of this animal are elongated; the toes can spread and are connected by a thick skin membrane. Thanks to this feature, the animal can move on marshy soil, despite its large weight, and also swim. The body is covered with short coarse hair.
The eyesight of the hicotoca is relatively poor; the eyes are shifted to the top of the head. The auricles are movable and wide, inside they have a skin fold, which functions as a valve and is controlled by special muscles. When an animal feeds by dipping its head underwater, a skin fold closes the ear canal. Hicotoca’s hearing is very acute – it is the main sense that helps to recognize the presence of predators in the forest. The next most important sense is the sense of smell. Animals mark trails in the forest with manure and renew them regularly.
Hicotoca has a very peculiar coloration, due to which it cannot be confused with other inhabitants of the forest. The color of the back of this animal is light gray with large dark spots, the sides and belly are dark. The head is colored more contrastingly: from the tip of the muzzle to the forehead, a wide white stripe bordered by contrasting black stripes stretches along the bridge of the nose. Above the eyes, there are white “eyebrows” of elongated hair, and tufts of long white hair grow on the cheeks. When meeting with possible enemies, this animal behaves very aggressively, opening its mouth wide and uttering a loud snoring roar (hence the name: in Nahuatl, the name of the animal means “snoring”). If the enemy does not retreat, the beast rushes to the attack and inflicts bites with its large teeth. The black and white pattern on the muzzle is clearly distinguishable even in the twilight of the forest, and frightens perfectly the enemies that have got a repulse from this beast.
Hicotoca is a social animal; there are up to 20 individuals in the herd, including several adult males, among which a strict hierarchy is established. Animals make trails in the forest, which have been used for many years. In the case of a predator attack, the herd stands in a defensive line, and adult animals cover the young with their bodies.
The nose of this one has a cartilaginous disc on its tip, but is movable. The long jaws of the animal have a relatively weak bite, so this peccary species feeds on relatively soft aquatic and semi-aquatic vegetation. In addition, the animal supplements its diet with food of animal origin: it eats the eggs of near-water birds and turtles, catches crayfish, and digs out insect larvae from the ground and rotten wood. This species willingly eats carrion and can even drive medium-sized predators away from their prey.
Seasonality in reproduction is expressed only at the northern extremity of the range – cubs are born in spring. In most of the range, offspring appear at any time of the year. There are usually 2 cubs in a litter, less often 1 or 3. Pregnancy lasts up to 6 months. The cubs are born well developed and a few hours after birth follow the adult animals, not lagging behind. Puberty comes at the age of 2 years, but a young male can really take part in reproduction only at the age of 4 years, having reached the prime of his physical strength. Life expectancy is up to 20 years.

Stegoichthys (Stegoichthys mississippiensis)
Order: Gars (Lepisosteiformes)
Family: Gars (Lepisosteidae)

Habitat: slow-flowing and stagnant water bodies and marshes from Florida to rivers in the arid part of the Great Plains.

Picture by Alexei Tatarinov

Gars form a group of fish of a very ancient origin. They were widespread on the Earth in the Mesozoic, but by the beginning of the human era, their range was significantly reduced due to natural reasons. In the human epoch, these fish suffered mainly from overfishing and pollution of habitats, but their populations were still viable by the end of human epoch. During the ice age at the boundary of the Holocene and Neocene, gars faced a rather serious crisis. Many reservoirs in which they lived simply dried up during the ice age, and the relic populations of these fish had a hard time. They escaped only due to the ability to breathe atmospheric air, which allowed them to live in reservoirs with poor water quality and survive annual droughts.
Stegoichthys of the Neocene epoch is a large and successful species of predatory fish, a descendant of one of the gar species, Lepisosteus. This fish species is widespread in the fresh waters of North America, where it partly competes with the trapperturtle (Crococlemys horrida). Separate populations live in rivers, where they mostly stay in pools and deep parts of the channel.
The body length of an adult stegoichthys reaches 6 meters, of which 1.5 meters falls on the head with strong jaws. Unlike gars, stegoichthys has shorter, but powerful jaws, equipped with large teeth. The weight of an adult fish reaches 630-680 kg. The main color of the body is greenish-brown with a darker back; the belly and throat are greenish-white. Among the strong scales inherited from the ancestor, there are several rows of large scutes, like in sturgeons – a row of wide plates along the back, and one row of scutes on each side. The sides between the rows of shields and the belly are covered with “coat of mail” of small scales. Fins are short and rounded; unpaired fins are shifted towards the tail. The caudal fin is trapezoidal with a small notch in the middle of the posterior margin. The swim bladder is connected to the intestines, its walls are permeated with blood vessels and covered with numerous folds that increase its surface area. It plays the role of a lung and allows the fish to breathe air, especially when the reservoir dries up.
Stegoichthys is a kind of analogue to the South American tyrannocharax (Tyrannocharax deinodontus), a kind of “crocodile” of stagnant reservoirs. Usually this predator hides in an ambush in shallow water in thickets of plants. The fish feeds on large prey – waterfowl, some mammals coming to the watering place, amphibians, small reptiles that have fallen into the reservoir, large fish and crabs. However, juveniles of this species, in turn, are eaten by herons and trapperturtles. These two predators compete for prey, but the stegoichthys cannot get large animals, and the turtle cannot get some fish and crustaceans, which weakens the competition. When the reservoir harbouring the stegoichthys becomes shallow, the fish begins to breathe atmospheric air more often. This allows the stegoichthys to survive if only a shallow dirty puddle or even just mud remains from the reservoir.
Spawning in this species begins in March-April, when the water warms up well and aquatic plants grow rapidly, releasing oxygen. Unlike the ancestral species, it is a territorial monogamous species. During spawning, males search for females and drive them into their territory, pressing to the thickets of plants suitable for spawning. The male chasing the female can jump out of the water, splashing sideways, and bite the female by the fins and tail. When two males of equal strength meet, a fight begins, during which the opponent receives serious wounds and sometimes dies. Recognizing his loss, the opponent tries to leave the territory of the winner as quickly as possible. The fertility of the female is up to 500 thousand small orange eggs. Their shells are sticky, and the eggs of this fish hang in clusters on small-leaved underwater plants. Then the male guards the clutch, or rather the territory where it is located. At this time, snails, small crustaceans and aquatic insects destroy a significant part of the eggs. After 12 days, fry hatches and immediately hide in the thickets. Due to the difference in size, adult fish cannot eat them, but young Stegoichthys willingly eat fry of their own species.
Stegoichthys grows very slowly. Sexual maturity occurs at 10 years, life expectancy is up to 75 years.

The idea of the existence of this species was suggested by Wovoka, the forum member.

Manatee fish (Ichthyomanatus crassilabrus)
Order: Cyprinoid fish (Cypriniformes)
Family: Suckerfishes (Catostomidae)

Habitat: lakes and rivers of southern part of North America.

Picture by Alexey Tatarinov

In Eurasia and Africa cyprinoid fishes were characteristic component of Holocene ichthyofauna. In North America fishes of this family had also lived, but they had been represented only by small species. And the place occupied by cyprinids in ecosystems of Eurasia had been occupied in New World by representatives of suckerfishes – representatives of other family of fishes.
Suckerfishes are fishes of clean rivers and lakes. In human epoch number of many of their species had sharply decreased because of pollution of reservoirs, and some species had been destroyed completely. During the ice age few survived species prospered in cool lakes, and till the global warming they had widely settled in all North America. When the climate began to change, descendants of northern suckerfishes had to maintain an impact of heat-loving fishes from the south. Some suckerfish species had died out or had receded to the north in such conditions, but anothers managed to survive and to occupy various ecological niches in new ecosystems.
In subtropical and tropical waters of North America to the east from Great Plains extensive river systems stretch; earlier the Mississipi basin was here. Here and in smaller river systems of Gulf of Mexico basin, one species of suckerfishes lives, having no analogues in ichthyofauna of North America. Presence of this fish can be defined by moving of leaves and stalks of plants: when this fish eats plants, stalks of reed move and fall in water, and from bottom clubs of silt rise. Occasionally in sun light wide scaly back with large fin shines, or wide-foreheaded head is shown. By behaviour mode and the role in ecosystems this fish resembles the manatee (Trichechus manatus), herbivorous water mammal, rare in Holocene and extinct completely to Neocene. This water inhabitant is named manatee fish.
The length of manatee fish is over 4 meters, and weight reaches one and half tons: it is largest freshwater fish of North America of Neocene epoch, and it is possible, the largest freshwater fish of the world. This is peaceful sluggish creature and the exclusive vegetarian. Manatee fish has massive body covered with large scales. This species of fishes is not able to swim quickly, but it is not necessary for adult fish: manatee fish had reached the size characteristic for these fishes, has practically no enemies. Tail fin is short, two-lobed with rounded blades. Tail is thick and high. Pectoral and abdominal fins of this fish have strong bases and very thick beams - they help the manatee fish to make the way through thickets of reed and among roots of trees. Manatee fish has bad sight and small eyes are located near to corners of mouth. This fish orientates with the help of sense of smell.
Body of this fish is colored dark green, and stomach is grey. On back and sides small brown spots are scattered. On back they are more numerous and merge, forming “marble” pattern. All fins are grayish. Male does not differ from the female in colouring; it is only smaller and slender a little.
One more feature which makes manatee fish a little similar to the mammal prototype is its mouth. At manatee fish there are fleshy mobile lips covered with numerous fleecy outgrowths. With their help the fish pulls out water plants with roots, and then swallows it entirely. Vegetative forage is poorly nutritious, therefore to increase the efficiency of digestion fish has got very long intestines – the length of bowels is about 30 meters. In it vegetative food is digested as if on the conveyor. The stomach at this fish is not expressed. Manatee fish eats practically till all day, consuming up to 30 kg of water plants per day. Using its dung infusorians and bacteria breed; they are eaten by plankton crustaceans and larvae of fishes serving as forage for various predatory fishes and water insects. Therefore reservoirs where the manatee fish lives differ in large productivity.
In reservoirs where heaten water contains not enough oxygen or in silty water manatee fish uses air breath. The mechanism of it is extremely imperfect, but effective. Having felt an asphyxia, fish emerges to water surface and ventilates gills actively: it simply swallows air from surface and blows it through gills as strong jet. Such activity of set of manatee fishes living in the same reservoir helps to avoid asphyxia in hot season and benefits to other inhabitants of reservoirs. One more advantage to inhabitants of lakes and slowly flowing rivers is that manatee fishes eat floating water plants. For this purpose the huge fish is overturned upside down and gathers plants, sucking them by mouth. From time to time the fish strongly compresses operculums, noisily throwing out from mouth casually swallowed air. Floating plants evaporate a lot of water, therefore, controlling their growth, manatee fishes slow down turning of reservoir to swamp.
At large species there is very slow cycle of reproduction, and manatee fish is not exception here. First time the female of this species spawns only at the age of about 12 years. Despite of the adaptation to life in warm and slowly flowing reservoirs, manatee fish has kept characteristic for suckerfishes attachment to the cool clean rivers which is shown during the spawning. To spawn eggs fish leave inundated lakes and coastal shallows during the river flood, gather in main channel and swim in schools to upper flows of rivers to pebble shallows. In these places there is a simultaneous and rough spawning. Males involving females jump out of water and loudly slap tails. They gather small groups and drive females ready to spawning. But usually one of males drives off other ones and spawns with the female alone. This species of fishes spawns a lot of roe – the adult female spawns more than 10 million eggs. Breeding fishes dig eggs in pebble and do not come back to it any more. The most part of spawned eggs perishes of different kind of water animals: crayfishes, small fish and snails. Fry hatch in one week. Young fishes swim to places with slow current where spend first months of life. At first they eat algal films and their mouth has the sucker shape. Growing up, young fishes start to eat filamentous algae and leaflets of water plants. The most part of young fishes perishes of various predators, but few individuals had reached 4 – 5-years age and length about 40 cm already have an every prospect to reach sexual maturity. At the age of 8 years young manatee fish reaches length of 1 meter and from above one and half meters to maturity approach. This species differs in enviable longevity: the average fish of this species may live till 150 years and more.


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