Beyond the BackyardMatanzas Tern Colony

Somewhere over the Rainbow…Least Terns Fly!

I went back to the Least Tern Colony at Summer Haven this morning.  My friend Michael Libbe came with me, and we had high hopes for a sunny morning and nice close nests.  Instead we got fog, a slight drizzle, and not-so-cooperative birds.  The nests that were close to the edge of the roped-off area were not there this time.  Probably some of the chicks have fledged, and the birds may have moved their nests farther back too.  Still, I did pretty well with The Beast, and I think Michael got some great shots with his 100-400 also.

Least Tern Family

Least Tern Family

We got to St. Augustine around 6:15 in the morning.  We’d been watching the clouds as we drove up I-95, and we quickly realized that there would not be a spectacular sunrise.  (I’d checked the weather the night before, too! :-p)  So we were pleasantly surprised to get to the beach and see the sun peeking through the clouds.  I put on my wide angle lens and set up the camera to auto-bracket the exposures.  When I got home, I combined them using HDR in Photoshop.

Sunrise at the Tern Colony

Sunrise at the Tern Colony

As the light brightened, I turned my attention to the birds.  Until Michael pointed out the rainbow!  At first we saw just the left side, then just the right side.  When I thought it had faded completely, I glanced up and saw the rainbow in its entirety.  I quickly grabbed my wide angle, still set up for HDR bracketing, and took some exposures for a panorama.  When I did my post-processing, I first processed the HDR for each frame of the panorama, saving the settings on the first frame so that I could re-apply them to subsequent frames.  Then I used Photoshop’s panorama tool to stitch them all together.  The result shows some distortion, but it’s the full rainbow!

Rainbow

Rainbow

We had about 15 minutes of good light.  We spotted a few tiny chicks, who burrowed their way under their mothers after eating their breakfasts.  It surprised me how different the beach was from the smooth white sand of the Gulf and the Black Skimmer colony.  But I think the terns are cuter than the skimmers.

Least Tern parent and chick

Least Tern parent and chick

The sun went behind the clouds, leaving us happy that we’d brought flashes and lots of charged batteries.  The birds were not as protective of the nesting area today.  Last time they went nuts any time a person approached the ropes.  Today they fussed, but only a little bit.  This is probably because a bunch of the chicks have fledged already.  After a while I wandered down to the shoreline, where groups of fledglings stood waiting for their parents to bring them food.  Given their size, I was a little surprised that they weren’t feeding themselves yet.

Least Tern fledgling

Least Tern fledgling

As I lay stretched out in the sand, I spotted a crab running towards me.  Last time I had some fun pictures of the terns chasing off a crab that ran straight through the colony.  They weren’t concerned about this crab, though.  He was far enough away from the tiny chicks.

Crab

Crab

We stayed for about two hours, then went up to the Alligator Farm to photograph the birds still nesting at the rookery.  Despite the weather, it was fun to hang out with the terns.  I love the sound of the colony as the birds go about their morning activities.  Sometimes I forget to take pictures because I’m too busy laughing at the birds and their antics.  It was a great way to spend a Saturday morning.

Least Tern adult

Least Tern adult

One thought on “Somewhere over the Rainbow…Least Terns Fly!

  1. Nice post! I’m glad the HDR pano came out for you. I’ve glanced at mine for Saturday, but don’t have them in Lightroom yet. I’m finishing up the skimmers from last weekend and should be done soon. I think I’ve got 2-3 nice ones in the 15 minutes of light we got. It was a great time!

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