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Least Terns in Love

I spent a lot of time with the Least Terns this spring.  At Fort De Soto, I observed their courtship several times.  As you may remember from my previous post, the terns exchange fish as the male proves to his prospective mate that he can provide for her and for the chicks.  If the female accepts the offering, the male hops onto her back for a little piggy-back ride.  Eggs are incubated for about three weeks, then tiny chicks are born.

I had never seen the full mating sequence play out before this spring.  At Fort De Soto, I saw some frenzied courtship dancing, which involved the male shaking his head repeatedly while holding the fish in his beak.  The female flapped her wings to show her interest.  But the terns at Fort De Soto got distracted and didn’t end up giving me a photo op.  So a few weeks later, in St. Augustine, I was excited to see the same frenzied courtship dance.  I had a feeling I knew what would happen next…

I was surprised at how long this dance went on, at least a minute or more.  (Enough for the photographer to get focused, get bored, shoot some video, and not miss any action!)  I thought the male was going to wear himself out, shaking his head so much!  But he finally decided to hop onto her back and give her the fish…

Fish Exchange

Fish Exchange

I was really excited to capture the transfer of the fish!  He was only on her back for about two seconds.  She made me laugh as she hunkered down on the beach, still holding her fish…

Least Terns in Love

Least Terns in Love

And as fast as it started, it was all over.  The birds started roaming the beach again, then one of them flew off.

In the next post…the concluding chapter of the Least Tern courtship! :)

Least Tern Courtship (from June)

Back in June, in the middle of our house construction nightmare, I managed to slip away for a quick morning of Least Tern Courtship.  It was such a relief to go to the quiet beach and feel the cool breeze as I watched these amazing birds.  They had recently arrived back in Florida for the nesting season, and they were looking for mates for a new season of nesting.

When you are a tern, the key to attracting a mate is having a good fish.  The male brings in a fish and presents it to his prospective mate, as proof of how well he can provide for her and for the babies that may follow.  When a female accepts the male, she takes his fish and then they get busy getting ready for their family.  But sometimes the female already has a mate, or just doesn’t like her  suitor…

A Fish to Share!

A Fish to Share!

This male flew in right in front of me with a nice fish.  He was all spiffy in his breeding plumage, he had a nice fresh fish, and he had his eye on a mate.

Do You Want My Fish?

Do You Want My Fish?

He presented it to his prospective mate, who eyed his his offering with guarded interest.

It's Really Yummy!

It’s Really Yummy!

So he danced around her, showing off his fish.  “See, it’s really good!  Don’t you want a bite?”

Let Me Take a Look

Let Me Take a Look

The female did seem to consider his offering, but then she walked away.  The male trotted behind her, fish in mouth, as if to ask why he was being so rudely rejected…

Wait, Where Are You Going?

Wait, Where Are You Going?

The male tried again, showing off his fish and begging the female to reconsider.  She continued to snub him.

Didn't You See the Really Great Fish?

Didn’t You See the Really Great Fish?

So he got annoyed and flew off.  Look at the expression of surprise and dismay on his lady friend’s face!

Fine!  I'll Give It To Someone Else

Fine! I’ll Give It To Someone Else

You’ll have to wait for my next blog entry to hear the continuing story of these two lovebirds…

Summertime Sunrise

I’m going through images that I made early this summer and didn’t have time to post.  I have some wonderful Least Terns and Sandhill Crane colts in store for the blog!  But first I want to share some beautiful summertime sunrise images taken near St. Augustine in June.  I don’t often get up to this pretty beach for sunrise, as it’s a two-hour drive from my house.  On this particular morning, the sky was perfectly clear, which translates to a boring sunrise with no clouds.  But I put on my neutral density filter and played with some long exposures to blur the motion of the waves.  I learned that my variable density filter doesn’t work too well with my wide-angle lens.  It’s supposed to be a 1-9 stop variable filter, but if I use more than about 3-4 stops, I get dark spots in the resulting image.  As the sun rose, I took off the filter and switched to bracketing for HDR images.  I really liked some of the resulting images, even if the sky needed a few clouds to be more interesting!

Summer Sunrise - Dawn Glistens on the Water

Summer Sunrise – Dawn Glistens on the Water

Landscape images can be challenging in Florida because the terrain is so flat.  On a day like this, with not many interesting features in the sky, I try to bring in lots of foreground elements.  I walked around the rocks, trying to find pleasing compositions to lead the eye towards the sun…

The Sun Peeks Up

The Sun Peeks Up

I try to arrive at least 30 minutes before sunrise, and I often stay till 20-30 minutes after.  It’s amazing how quickly the light changes in that time!  You go from the blue hour of pre-dawn to the blindingly bright sun that quickly becomes too intense to photograph.  As I headed back to my car, I paused and looked back over my shoulder to the scene I’d just photographed.

Sunrise Walk

Sunrise Walk

Yep, those are my footsteps, and the footsteps of the few other people walking the beach at that early hour.  I loved how the steps led straight into the sunrise.  Then I noticed some pretty flowers growing nearby.  I knelt down and tried a few shots, bracketing for HDR because I knew that I’d need to merge the contrasting tones into a final image.  My final image of the day is perhaps my favorite. :)

Beach Flowers Welcome a New Day

Beach Flowers Welcome a New Day

Now that the summer bird nesting season is coming to a close, I should get out and photograph the sunrise more.  It’s always a fun challenge, and you never get the same shot twice!