HALL ISLAND — On this windy, misty August day, there are perhaps one million birds clinging to the cliffs that buttress this Bering Sea island. These seabirds, crazy-eyed and with bodies both sleek and clumsy, need solid ground for just a few months to hold their eggs. When their summer mission is complete, the birds scatter to the vastness of the sea.
The temporary human population on Hall Island is six — five biologists and me. We are intruding on a five-mile-long apostrophe occupied by birds in summer and padded upon year-round by a few arctic foxes that eat voles and birds and bird eggs and who-knows-what in winter. The only signs of people here are a collection of small World War II-era batteries on the interior tundra and a dark green square of turf that might show where a few Russians and their Aleut slaves dug in for a winter in the early 1800s.