I had such a good time photographing the terns and gulls in their feeding frenzy at Fort De Soto over Labor Day weekend. I got to North Beach just after sunrise. The feeding frenzy from the night before continued as hundreds of birds dove into the waves and pulled out their breakfasts. There were so many birds!! It was hard to know what to shoot first. There wasn’t a lot of light, so I started with group shots…
It was a nice breezy morning. I followed the flock up and down the beach as they fed. My still images weren’t capturing the masses of birds as well as I wanted, so I switched into video mode. I chuckled as the gulls all walked to my left to get out of the way of a beach-walker.
The sun took its time to peek out that morning. I didn’t have enough light for good flight shots, so I put my wide-angle lens on and tried for some pleasing blurs. Some well-known photographers pride themselves on making pleasing blurs, and often I look at their images, carefully crafted to be blurry, and think to myself, “hey, those are the accident shots that I throw away!” But sometimes those famous photographers publish really cool images of large flocks of birds, and the blurry suggestion of motion is prettier than the detail you’d get with a perfectly focused shot. I don’t often have huge flocks of birds around to try for these types of shots, so I figured I’d experiment with the opportunity. I made a couple of images that I liked. This was my favorite, with the slightly blurry beach looking more like a painting than a photograph.
Finally the sun came out, and I switched to flight shots of the birds. The juvenile terns were fun to watch. Their flight patterns were more erratic than those of their parents. Or sometimes I’d see two birds flying by together, and they were a parent and a juvie. The juvies were easy to distinguish with their fresh plumage and from the racket they were making. They still made their “feed-me-feed-me-feed-me” call in mid-air as they dove after Mom. Mom would pull a fish out of the waves, then pause and wait for the juvie to do the same. Most of the time, the juvies would hold back, still shrieking, as if to say, “you want me to dive down where?!?”
I started to notice a pattern in the birds’ behavior as they fished. They’d emerge from the ocean with their fish prizes in their beaks, then they’d do this little shake in mid-air as they swallowed the fish. I started focusing on the birds emerging from the surf, trying to capture this behavior. I laughed out loud when I saw this image on the back of my camera:
Most of the birds were swimming over the water, but back on the beach, some juveniles stood calling for Mom to bring in some fish. I loved how this one got on top of a mound of sand and then pronounced to the world that he was hungry. If he’d been human I bet he would have stomped his foot. But just as humans don’t take well to foot-stomping, mother terns don’t always listen to their maturing offspring, and this one was forced to fly off and search for his own breakfast!
Want to learn more about nature photography at Fort De Soto?
Check out my Fort De Soto 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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