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Juvenile Black Skimmers Meet the Water

Two weeks after visiting the week-old skimmers, I headed back to Indian Rocks Beach to visit “my babies.”   I hoped that the oldest Black Skimmer babies, now teenagers, would start venturing down to the water.  The morning started off slow, but it turned out to be really awesome!  My friend Michael and I were pleasantly surprised to find quite a variety of shots at the colony that morning.

Juvenile Skimmer - Yes, They Grow Up Fast!

Juvenile Skimmer – Yes, They Grow Up Fast!

We arrived around 7:30 and found no babies down at the water, but the parent skimmers were skimming often along the shoreline.  We sat down to photograph the skimming for a while.  It’s tricky focusing on the birds as they fly towards you.  The camera often tries to auto-focus on the waves, not the bird!  Birds in flight are always tough to focus on and track, but when they have splashing waves behind them, it’s even more challenging.  So I was excited to get some sharp images…

Skim Through the Waves

Skim Through the Waves

The Black Skimmers didn’t seem bothered by the waves that would crash around them as they skimmed.  I hate the feel of water in my eyes, so I would wince, but the birds were focused on catching breakfast.  Look at how the water breaks around this bird as he pulls his prey from the water.

The skimmers eat by catching fish in their lower beak when they “skim” through the water.  I noticed that a lot of the birds would emerge from the water, then pull their feet up to their mouths and sort of scratch while they ate the fish.  I didn’t quite understand what they were doing there.  Maybe they were repositioning the fish before the fatal gulp?  I caught a pretty good shot of this scratching action below, and if you can tell me what they were doing, please post a comment!

Skim and Scratch

Skim and Scratch

Apparently after breakfast, it’s Black Skimmer Bath Time.  We had plenty of opportunities to watch the adult birds come down to the water for a splash.  Usually after birds bathe, they do a wing-flap, so it’s easy to get focused while they are bathing and get ready to hold down the shutter button for the wing shot!  I really liked this one, as the skimmer headed back towards the colony to go take care of her family.

Bath Time Over!

Bath Time Over!

After watching the birds skim and bathe for a while, Michael and I headed up towards the colony to see what we could find.  I found a small skimmer chick, nicely backlit by rising sun.  I loved how the edges of his feathers glowed as he seemed to say, “Pretty soon I’ll be the one flying at the ocean!”

Backlit Baby Black Skimmer

Backlit Baby Black Skimmer

But the best surprise was the newborn skimmer that we found sitting under Mom.  This bird was still damp from the egg.  Mom sat protectively on the hatchling, and I think she was still incubating a second egg.  Then Dad brought in Junior’s very first fish.

Surprise!  Newborn Black Skimmer

Surprise! Newborn Black Skimmer

Did you know what to do with the first food your mom gave you?  Well, Junior didn’t either!  Dad stood there patiently with the fish while the baby wiggled out.  The baby first went to Mom’s beak, and when he didn’t find food, he moved on over to Dad’s beak.  He took the fish and dropped it.  Patient Dad picked it up time and time again, trying to help the baby figure out how to eat it.  Eventually Dad got bored and ate it himself.  I bet Junior got a regurgitated breakfast that morning. Yum!

Nearby, another family seemed to be still in the courtship process.  Both adults were digging a scrape and sitting in it.  I wondered if they were re-nesting after losing their first clutch of chicks.  Then surprise again!  A baby popped out of the scrape.

Hi!  Don't Push Me Out of My Nest!

Hi! Don’t Push Me Out of My Nest!

As cute as the small chicks are, we were distracted by the calls of fellow photographers, announcing that the first teenagers were making their way down to the water.  Cool!  Of course we followed.

Walk and Skim

Walk and Skim

The juvenile skimmers seem to know how to skim by instinct.  You could tell by some of their reactions that it was their first trip down to the water.  They didn’t know what to think of the wetness.  Then they’d immediately stick their beaks down and start skimming.  They couldn’t yet fly, but they walked and skimmed, preparing for that fast-approaching day when they’d be able to fly.

Skimmer Ballerina

Skimmer Ballerina

Sometimes the juvie skimmers would run and flap their wings.  I kept hoping one would take off on his first flight.  But no, not on this trip.  I love the pretty blue tones of the juvie skimmer feathers.  It’s amazing to observe Nature’s palette as baby birds are born  and change into their adult plumages.

Feed Me, Mom, Feed Me Now!

Feed Me, Mom, Feed Me Now!

Now the juvenile Black Skimmers are almost as big as their parents, but they still dance for food like when they were tiny hatchlings.  I’ve watched dozens of juvie birds still try to nuzzle up under Mom while dancing, without realizing that they don’t really fit anymore!  At this age we saw fewer feedings.  I think we also arrived after the adults stopped serving breakfast!

Bark and Fly!

Bark and Fly!

I was really excited to get this shot of the skimmer flying with his mouth open, with the surf breaking behind him.  I also couldn’t resist a chuckle at the three birds below, who waddled in a row as if playing “Follow the Leader.”

Follow the Leader!

Follow the Leader!

All in all it was a great morning!  I resolved to return the next weekend to see if I could photograph some teenage skimmers in flight.  You’ll have to wait for the next blog post for that… :)

Fledgling Brown Thrashers in my Backyard

This weekend I was out in the backyard with my camera, waiting for a hummingbird.  The Brown Thrashers were flitting around as usual.  We’ve had  more thrasher sightings this year than in previous years.  Then I figured out why.  You can imagine my surprise when I saw three fledgling Brown Thrashers pop out from under a bush!

Three Fledgling Brown Thrashers!

Three Fledgling Brown Thrashers!

The little thrashers have already learned the first rule of bird photography.  Never all look at the camera at the same time!

Parent Brown Thrasher

Parent Brown Thrasher

Now I understand why I see Mama and Papa Thrasher emptying out my feeders so quickly.  They have a lot of mouths to feed!   Does this parent look a little frazzled to you?

Juvie Brown Thrasher in Firebush

Juvie Brown Thrasher in Firebush

The fledgling Brown Thrashers look a lot like their parents already.  The only major distinguishing feature is that the juvies have blue eyes, instead of the yellow eyes of the parents.

I was hoping to find hummingbirds in my firebush that evening.  But it turned out to be a great bush for the juvie thrashers, too!  I guess it provides good shelter for them, conveniently located next to the birdbath.

So it didn’t take long for one to hop to the birdbath.  But I didn’t imagine that a second one would soon join him!  They were very cute as they splashed around together.

Bath Time For Two

Bath Time For Two

I spent a very happy hour in the backyard watching these guys.  They were fearless!  They could have cared less about the photographer sitting in the corner.  It just makes me want to get to work on my photography blind.  Then I’ll be able to get even closer! :)

Week-Old Black Skimmers are Still Cute!

The baby Black Skimmers that I photographed four weeks ago as hatchlings are already learning to fly.  But I’m a little behind on my blog, so we’ll back up a few weeks to when they were just a week old.  That diet of needlefish must pay off well.  The week-old Black Skimmers are much bigger than when they first hatched, but they are still pretty cute!

Big Yawn!  Week-old Black Skimmer Chick at Indian Rocks

Big Yawn! Week-old Black Skimmer Chick at Indian Rocks

It’s pretty hot on the white sand in the scorching Florida afternoon sun.  The smart babies know how to deal with the heat – they dive under the shade that Mom and Dad provide!  It doesn’t pay to get to the colony really early in the afternoon, as the light is bad for photography, and the babies won’t come out.  If you wait till 5:30 or later, the sun is no longer as high in the sky, and the late afternoon breeze kicks in to cool both photographers and their subjects.

Is That For Me?

Is That For Me?

At one week old, feeding is not as much of an effort as it was for the hatchling skimmers.  These babies have a week of practice of getting those big fish down their throats, and with each fish they eat, the babies get bigger and bigger.  No longer do the needlefish seem ridiculously disproportionate to their little bodies, although they are still quite a mouthful.  It gets harder and harder to photograph the feedings, because the babies don’t take as long to swallow!

Adult Black Skimmer with Needlefish

Adult Black Skimmer with Needlefish

Most of the fish get covered in sand before they arrive at the mouths of the chicks.  Maybe it’s little skimmer-salt?  Well, my grandmother always did say that each child has to eat a pound of dirt!

Mom, I Have to Tell You a Secret

Mom, I Have to Tell You a Secret

It’s easy to anthropomorphize these cute creatures.  I think the little guys will go poke at Mom’s beak to tell her that they are hungry.  But it looks very tender, almost as if the babies are confiding their great secrets to their patient mother.  “Mom, little Johnny in the next hole says that these little stubs are for flying…when can I do that, Mom, when?”

The Little Gymnast

The Little Gymnast

The week-old Black Skimmers do a fun little thing that I like to call the “hop-skip-jump.”  I think they are exercising their wings, preparing for that wonderful day when they will take flight and follow Mom out to sea.  But you have to run before you can fly.  The baby skimmers are challenging to photograph as they run around flapping their wings, adding in little hops at random.  They don’t exactly give a five-second warning.  It’s tough to get them coming towards the camera, in focus, and isolated against a white beach background.  In the shot above, I was focusing on Mom and her cuddly chick when the little gymnast decided to stretch his wings.

Mom and the Kids

Mom and the Kids

This next shot is the same family, as the sun set.  It always amazes me how quickly the light fades about twenty minutes before sunset.  The little ones look happy to see the sun go away.   Mom was barking a call to her mate.  She looks alert and happy as she gets a break from the harsh rays of the sun.

Sunset on Florida's Gulf Coast

Sunset on Florida’s Gulf Coast

Speaking of sunsets, I haven’t shared many of them lately because they haven’t been too spectacular.  Puffy clouds in the sky really make a beach sunset photo pop.  Otherwise, you end up with an expanse of beach and an uninteresting orange sky.  But on this night, there were a few wispy clouds on the horizon, so I used my Beast to take a few quick shots of the giant orb as it disappeared below the horizon.  What a way to end a fun afternoon with friends and birds!