You’ve Come a Long Way, Babies!

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I stopped at Indian Rocks Beach to visit the Black Skimmer colony yesterday after my morning at Fort De Soto.  It was 10:15 by the time I got there, so the light was already pretty harsh, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to see the little chicks all grown up.  As a reminder, here’s what they looked like back in mid-June…

Black Skimmer chicks – June 2011

Black Skimmer chicks – June 2011

Here’s what they look like now!

The babies are now almost as big as Mom and Dad.  Most have started to acquire darker feathers on their backs.  Only a few were still in their creamy baby colors.  Their beaks have started to fill out, with the bottom part getting longer than the top.  They still beg for food from their parents, though:

The colony has extended past the roped-off area where the chicks were brooded when they were small.  Now most of the birds stand between the roped-off area and a small tidal pool.  A bird steward watches over them, making sure that people adhere to the signs saying “Slow down!  The birds cross this beach to get to the ocean.”  Adult birds continue to fly in and out of the big mass of skimmers, making flight shots fairly easy.

A couple of the babies have started to fly.  Most of the flight action that I observed was fairly minimal, with the juvenile birds just going from one end of the tidal pool to the other.  With all the other birds around, it was challenging to isolate any good flight shots.  This was my best, and I’ll have to confess to a tiny bit of wing repair where I clipped the tip of the left wing.  Not only was it hard to isolate the birds, it was hard to frame them as they flew pretty close to me.  (I know, a nice problem to have.  I didn’t even use The Beast!)

While all the juveniles begged for food from what seemed like each passing adult, a few independent ones decided to take matters into their own beaks.  I saw a couple of young skimmers practice skimming in the tidal pool.  I think all they found were bits of seaweed, but they ate it, probably to the delight and relief of their parents.

The adults continue to be pretty protective of the colony.  When I first arrived, I took a few steps too close to the birds, and they flew at me to make me leave.  They are less concerned about gulls now that the babies are bigger, but they would still run off other birds that got too close.  It was fun to watch the adults rise into the air and fly at each other every once in a while.  I tried to capture the pair interactions as they fought, but my best shot was of a single fussy bird.

When the babies are tiny, they blend right into the sand.  When danger is near, the babies drop flat into the sand, and lie still until the danger passes.  I think this juvenile bird got a little too used to that drill.  He doesn’t realize that he doesn’t blend in anymore!

The light got more and more harsh as the morning went on, and by 11:00, I packed up and left.  I was really glad I’d gotten back to see the fledgling birds.  They’ve come a long way since their hatchling days!

Black Skimmer chick with egg – Home Sweet Home?

Black Skimmer chick with egg – Home Sweet Home?

Want to learn more about nature photography at Black Skimmer Colonies?

Check out my Black Skimmer Colonies page with more information about the location, map, website, photography tips, etc. It is archived by date so you can see my images from previous visits. Maybe you'll be inspired for your own trip!

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