In the extreme climate of a Siberian winter, ocean and land are locked in ice for up to eight bitterly cold months. The arrival of summer here is not just a respite from the hundred-mile-winds and minus fifty degree temperatures. For both its annual visitors, and the creatures that exist there all year round, it is the difference between life and death.
On the pack ice, its winter white camouflage almost indistinguishable against the frozen backdrop, a sole Arctic fox begins its journey to the relative safety of its breeding ground on Wrangel Island. It has survived the winter on scraps left by polar bears, but now pickings are slim, even for the hungriest of scavengers.
Two thousand miles to the south, a lone red fox makes its way across a frozen sea to another ice-locked island. The heavily pregnant vixen has abandoned the relative safety of the mainland for desolate Talan Island. And once the ice melts, she and her pups will be marooned six miles offshore until winter once more turns the ocean into an icy bridge to the mainland.
Other predators have also arrived on the island, and along with ravens and Steller’s sea eagles, the vixen awaits the arrival of Talan’s next guests, for over the coming weeks Talan will transform from almost barren rock to one of the largest seabird communities in the Northern Pacific.
A dozen different species ? literally millions of birds ? journey to Talan each year to breed. As wave after wave of Crested Auklets, Horned and Tufted Puffins arrive, it signals the start of Talan’s season of plenty.
As the vixen and her cubs take advantage of this seabird bonanza, further north the Arctic fox is still living life on the edge. The scraps left by a polar bear provide the only sustenance a pregnant vixen will find on the slowly crumbling pack ice. And she must move quickly if she is to reach the safety of Wrangel Island before the pack ice breaks up completely.
Wrangel’s steep and inaccessible cliffs are also home to breeding sea birds. And for the Arctic fox and her newly born cubs, a patrol can result in a windfall of fallen eggs and chicks. The arrival of chicks and cubs mark the beginning of Wrangel’s brief weeks of summer. Both on the islands and mainland of Siberia, brown bears, polar bears and caribou also make the most of the summer bounty.
On Talan a population explosion has taken place, and the red fox cubs have grown quickly on the plenty that surrounds them. Days spent in mock play fights provide essential training for the cubs, whose lives as solitary nomads will begin as soon as they leave the safety of their island home.
The arrival of autumn on Talan will see the departure of the birds for warmer climates. But for the trapped foxes it will signal the start of a crucial wait. Their cached food supplies must hold out until the winter ice returns, and they can escape to the mainland.
On Wrangel, the Arctic Fox and her cubs are also preparing to go their separate ways.
Their brief respite over, both the Arctic and red foxes must now focus on the task ahead ? that of surviving another Siberian winter.