Go to Top

More Precious Moments with the Least Terns

My last visit with the Least Tern family left such a smile on my face that I got up early and returned to the beach the following morning.  Rich just rolled his eyes and said something about crazy bird photographers.  What, doesn’t everybody get up at 3:30am on weekends? ;-)

Cute Two-Day-Old Least Tern

Cute Two-Day-Old Least Tern

Aw!  Isn’t that a cute face?  He was totally worth the early morning drive!!

When I first arrived, Mom and Dad were very busy trying to stuff as much fish into the little chick as he could possibly swallow.

Big Fish To Swallow

Big Fish To Swallow

Already he seemed to have grown from the previous day.  It’s hard to believe that he’ll fledge just 19-21 days after birth.  In that short time, he goes from being a helpless little chick to a juvenile fully capable of caring for himself.

Mom and Dad continued to take turns incubating the egg of Junior’s unhatched brother.  Every few minutes I silently pleaded to see a hatching.  Wouldn’t it be fun to see Mom reach down and throw out an eggshell?  Then Junior would get to meet his baby brother.  Then even more fish would start coming in!  Alas, it was not to be.  By the time I left, Mom and Dad seemed to have stopped incubating the egg.

Ssssh!  Don't Wake Up the Baby!

Ssssh! Don’t Wake Up the Baby!

Look closely in the photo above and you’ll see the tiny chick asleep under Mom.  Dad brought in another fish for breakfast, but the chick wasn’t hungry.  Mom got up, offered it to the chick several times, and finally ate it herself.  I guess the baby isn’t the only one who’s hungry!

Are You Sure You're Not Hungry?

Are You Sure You’re Not Hungry?

The baby moved around a bit more on this second day, although he was still pretty wobbly on those tiny legs.  Sometimes I’d get lucky and he’d move a tiny way away from Mom and Dad, letting me photograph the tiny bird all alone on the wide expanse of beach.

Cute Yawn!

Cute Yawn!

This little guy was active.  I had fun trying to catch his little jump sequences.  He’d suddenly do these little hop-skip-jumps that were just adorable.  It’s too bad that he wouldn’t do them on command, or always run towards the camera! ;-)

Flight Practice

Flight Practice

After a while Mom and Dad moved him about a foot from his nest scrape, close to some branches and debris on the beach.  The little tern blended in very well with his surroundings, which seemed to make Mom and Dad a bit less concerned about his safety.  We didn’t have any close run-ins with ghost crabs today, which was a relief for both the birds and the photographer!

Blending in for a Nap

Blending in for a Nap

I was surprised at how active the colony continues to be.  A few older chicks were running around in the back.  Several families had tiny chicks.  More chicks are on the way, too, judging from the fish exchanges that I saw…

More Babies on the Way!

More Babies on the Way!

So there might be more posts from this colony this summer! :)

Photographer’s Worst Nightmare

My visit with the Least Terns from my last post was so wonderful that I resolved to get up early the following morning and go back.  I didn’t sleep well that night.  Knowing that I had to get up early for another long drive, I kept waking up and thinking that it was time to go.  11:30 went by, then 12:15, then 12:45.  Knowing that you have to get up at 3:30 certainly can keep you awake!  At least I relaxed into a longer sleep.  Then I hardly knew what time it was.  The room was bright, the sun shone down on my face, and the clock said 9:30 – three hours past sunrise!  I was so annoyed with myself for sleeping through my alarm and missing the morning on the beach.  Then the alarm went off and I realized it was all a dream.  It was really just 3:30, and time to get on the road!

Rich heard my story later that day and just chuckled at me.  He said, “now I know what a nature photographer’s worst nightmare is!  Sleeping through sunrise!”

As it turned out, it was a marvelous sunrise.  When I arrived at the beach, there were plenty of clouds on the horizon.

Clouds on the Horizon

Clouds on the Horizon

It was low tide, so I crept farther down the beach than usual, looking for rocks covered by the ebb and flow of the tide.  I wasn’t alone.  A Snowy Egret flew in and joined me on the rocks.   He was so intent on pulling fish from the ocean that he didn’t care if I was there.  The waves splashed me as I knelt down and photographed the white bird against the glow of the rising sun.

Going Fishing

Going Fishing

The sun took its time making an appearance behind the clouds.  But when it did, it cast the world in a bright shimmering golden light.  That moment was worth the 2 hours of driving from Orlando!

First Glimpse of the Sun

First Glimpse of the Sun

I had a date to keep with my baby terns, so I didn’t linger long.  As I turned to leave the beach, the sun was already behind another bank of clouds.  What a great start to the morning!

Beach Sunrise

Beach Sunrise

Precious Moments with the Least Terns

This spring I’ve visited the Matanzas tern colony several times, first to see the Least Terns mating, then in hopes of seeing young chicks.  The terns are nesting a little late this year, and it took some extra visits before I finally spotted fuzzy cuteness.  I spent several hours sprawled on the sand, watching a precious family as the two adults learned to care for their day-old chick.

Stretch Your Wings!  Tiny Least Tern Chick

Stretch Your Wings! Tiny Least Tern Chick

The baby spent most of his morning under Mom’s wing.  It’s nice and cool in there, where he’s well-protected from the hot sun.

Under my Wing

Under my Wing

Little babies sleep a lot.  They’ll sleep for half an hour at a time.  It takes patience to photograph them.  Mom was still incubating another egg, so she also tended to stick to one place.

Safe and Happy

Safe and Happy

The best moments were when Junior woke up.  He’d wiggle his way out from under Mom and strike out to explore the beach in his immediate vicinity.  He went as far as his little wobbly legs would carry him!  He reminded me of the chick I photographed several years ago, who I nicknamed Magellan because he was the first to circumnavigate Mom. :)

Emerging Cuteness

Emerging Cuteness

Junior was really good at stretching those little wing stubs as he walked around.  At times he would fall down because he was still learning to walk, yet he’d do these cute little hop-skip-jumps and stretch his little stubby wings.

At times all the adults would fly off because they saw a predator in the vicinity.  Junior would flatten himself on the sand, practically invisible to all that flew overhead.  Nature’s camouflage is pretty cool.  Then Mom would fly back in and there’d be a few quick seconds to photograph the interactions between mother and child.

Mommy, I Have to Tell You Something

Mommy, I have to tell you something.  I pooped while you were gone.

The tiny chick was really good at stretching.  Sometimes he would lunge forward and stretch his legs behind him.  Maybe Mommy told him he had to do ten stretches before his next fish.

Stretch that Leg!

Stretch that Leg!

Speaking of fish, boy did this little guy get excited when he spotted Dad flying in with breakfast!  Mom and Dad seemed to call to each other as Dad approached, and Junior would hop out all excited and go running to meet Dad.

Daddy is Coming!  Breakfast Time!

Daddy is Coming! Breakfast Time!

Dad landed with a fish, and both parents looked on anxiously as the tiny chick figured out the mechanics of eating.  It takes a lot of effort to swallow a fish that’s half as big as you are!  The little bird seemed to know instinctively how to position the fish in his mouth and swallow it with one big gulp.

Fish for Breakfast

Fish for Breakfast

The beach isn’t a safe place for a tiny tern chick.  Ghost crabs lurk everywhere.  One got awfully close to the nest, and even closer to my camera, as I watched the parents throw their wings in the air and try to scare him off.   Luckily it worked.  The chick didn’t even seem to know what happened.

Crab Alert!  Stay Away from my Baby!

Crab Alert! Stay Away from my Baby!

I remembered to take a little video of this sweet family as they cuddled on the beach.  It shows the “change of the guard”, when Dad flew in to take over incubation duties while Mom went off to stretch her wings.  Junior wasn’t interested in staying under the wing, though.  He was a big one-day-old who was asserting his independence!

The sun got hotter and the shadows got harsh, but it was hard to tear myself away from these birds.  Mom tucked in Junior for his next nap and promised to take good care of him.  Junior gave me a big goodbye yawn as I crept quietly away. :)

All Tired Out

All Tired Out