2018-03-28, 12:55 PM (ISO 8601)
Re: Cultures -- Multiple Pan-Asian sources in a WELL DONE "mashup"
The first kings of the central islands were lead from island to island by following the tiny swift, which breeds in the many caves and cliff sides of the islands. Their nests were prized delicacies enjoyed only by the nobles who paid laborers to climb the cliffs and enter the caverns to harvest them.
This rather mundane practice lead to a legend of a swift which helped found an empire, and swifts, and their nests, are still prized today by the Sea Folk. But their nesting sites in the islands are only a part of their tale.
Swifts are small, agile, insectivores. They are also among the world's masters at long-distance flight, performing up to 12,000 miles of travel per year on an epic migration up and down the island chains. These migrations follow seasonal weather patterns which aid their migratory patterns.
In the spring chaotic weather creates difficult flying conditions, but the pools and mires of the central islands breed insect swarms, and their rugged terrain offers shelter for the swifts. This is both nesting time and the time of moulting. After five weeks the parents will abandon the nests, and the young remain behind for up to a week before they too are ready to leave the nest. While their elders follow the changing weather north, the young remain behind, feeding on the local insect population over the summer.
Out in the center of the Inner Sea the summer high pressure zone begins to form, creating a counter-clockwise rotation in the atmosphere which pushes warm air northward along the island chain, causing insects to emerge from winter hibernation just in time for the arrival of the swifts. The thawing tundra is their ultimate goal, where vast ice fields turn to grassy marshes and insects swarm in number which cover the grass. This is their time to fatten up as the sun sets on the north pole.
As the polar cold begins to grow cold currents are drawn into the central gyre of the Inner Sea, breaking the strength of the Summer High, and the winds which had blown north along the islands all summer now falter. The first cold rains of autumn herald a chain of events which prove the swift is among the champions of the game of survival.
Behind the first cold front the insects burrow or breed or whatever they do to preserve their species, and after a temporary glut, their food source begins to rapidly diminish. They must now fly south along the chain of islands with cold wind and famine at their backs. As the cold snaps kill off the local insect population the flocks are driven past the Central Islands, picking up their surviving offspring along the way.
The tropical islands of the equatorial region are largely barren atols with mangrove-choked lagoons. They cannot sustain a flock of swifts for long, much less the migratory swarms which hop from island to island eating every bug and crawlie that can be found, and being pushed by hunger ever southward, into the Southern Hemisphere and the last of the great islands.
Along the southward loop of the journey, being left behind could be a death sentence as the available food is consumed by previous waves of swifts, but the advantages of flying with the north wind include far less energy consumption and the possibility of encountering insect die-offs behind the cold fronts, so some portion of the migration always lags and some go ahead. Many, the old, the young, the ill or injured, don't make it.
But for those which do, the southernmost islands are mountainous, with mangrove swamps around their perimeter and vast salt pans trapped in coral embayments. The storms of southern winter hurl water onto these salt pans which dry under the southern summer sun, which precipitates minerals that attract an abundance of insects, including swarms of flies which feed and breed on the thin film of drying water.
For the swifts this is paradise. The swifts form sleeping colonies along the cliffs overlooking these salt pans, and in the evening seek out a stream to rinse off the salt before jostling for a place on the tiny ledges they call home. But paradise never lasts. The streams dry out and the salt pans soon after. The few permanent pools are mobbed, and starvation looms, but the easterly winds of summer begin to cool at night. The salt pans would not support a colony over the southern winter, and they will remain arid and sun-baked until the late winter storms.
And now another drive urges them northward, this time lead by the males, who brave famine to be the first to claim their spot in the ancestral cave or cliff colony. There they construct spit-nests, seeking to build large enough to entice a hen. While females tend to shop around the various nesting sites, males tend to return to the place of their birth. Once she selects her mate they breed and within days she begins to lay up to six eggs, the last of which never tend to hatch due to nest crowding and sibling rivalry. Most nests will only bring two swiftlets to their first moult, but industrious parents have brought four or even five chicks to maturity.
Many swifts stop along the way, never reaching their northward or southward maximum, but a great majority fly from the temperate south, across the equatorial tropics to the northern tundra and back, following an arc almost one fourth the circumference of the planet. And they do it with storms behind them all the way.
Last edited by brian 333; 2018-03-30 at 09:43 AM.