This weekend I returned to the Black Skimmer colony at Indian Rocks Beach. It’s been five weeks now since the babies hatched, and three weeks since I photographed them as adorable two-week-olds. I figured they were flying and learning to skim by now, so I headed over in the morning when the sun best illuminates the waves and the ocean. I was greeted by a colony of teenagers – almost the size of Mom and Dad, not quite colored like them yet, but definitely on their way to adulthood!
The colony is no longer confined to the roped-off area on the beach. Adult and juvenile skimmers mill freely about the beach. There are signs warning people to be careful about stepping on the juvenile birds. But don’t worry, Mom and Dad are still making sure that nobody bothers their young ones. I saw several adult skimmers dive-bombing people that got too close.
I sat down in the sand with my Beast and 5D Mark III and did flight shots for most of the morning. Even with the 5D’s great autofocus system, photographing birds diving in the surf can be challenging. I ended up putting it on single-point autofocus and panning with the birds to get the sharpest in-flight skim shots.
You would think that in a colony of several hundred birds, you’d have almost constant skimming in the early morning, but that wasn’t the case. There would be long periods when nobody went down the water, followed by a burst of activity with several birds skimming.
Most of the juveniles were not flying much. They stayed up on dry beach, “barking” their sharp calls to get Mom and Dad’s attention. The signs around the colony said that the juveniles were still flightless. It’s getting more challenging to feed them, though. When Mom or Dad would bring in a fish, the gulls would swoop in, often snatching the fish away from the skimmer before the juvenile could get his beak on it.
I saw fewer “skimmer skirmishes” this visit than on any of my previous visits. I guess the birds are less territorial as their chicks grow up. But it was fun to see one skirmish, and I loved how my 5D focused so quickly on the mid-air battle. Look at those flapping wings and yapping beaks!!
Finally I started to see a few juveniles headed to the water to skim. Yay! They didn’t know it, but photographing them was really the point of my trip. The juvenile flight pattern was much more erratic than that of their parents. You can tell they are still learning how to fish for themselves. But wow, you’ve come a long way, babies!!
As the sun grew hot and the light got harsh, I caught an adult and juvenile Black Skimmer together in the air. Soon they will soar off together and the juvie will grow up. Maybe next year he’ll return to Indian Rocks Beach to have babies of his own!
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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