Juvenile Black Skimmers Meet the Water

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Two weeks after visiting the week-old skimmers, I headed back to Indian Rocks Beach to visit “my babies.”   I hoped that the oldest Black Skimmer babies, now teenagers, would start venturing down to the water.  The morning started off slow, but it turned out to be really awesome!  My friend Michael and I were pleasantly surprised to find quite a variety of shots at the colony that morning.

Juvenile Skimmer - Yes, They Grow Up Fast!
Juvenile Skimmer – Yes, They Grow Up Fast!

We arrived around 7:30 and found no babies down at the water, but the parent skimmers were skimming often along the shoreline.  We sat down to photograph the skimming for a while.  It’s tricky focusing on the birds as they fly towards you.  The camera often tries to auto-focus on the waves, not the bird!  Birds in flight are always tough to focus on and track, but when they have splashing waves behind them, it’s even more challenging.  So I was excited to get some sharp images…

Skim Through the Waves
Skim Through the Waves

The Black Skimmers didn’t seem bothered by the waves that would crash around them as they skimmed.  I hate the feel of water in my eyes, so I would wince, but the birds were focused on catching breakfast.  Look at how the water breaks around this bird as he pulls his prey from the water.

The skimmers eat by catching fish in their lower beak when they “skim” through the water.  I noticed that a lot of the birds would emerge from the water, then pull their feet up to their mouths and sort of scratch while they ate the fish.  I didn’t quite understand what they were doing there.  Maybe they were repositioning the fish before the fatal gulp?  I caught a pretty good shot of this scratching action below, and if you can tell me what they were doing, please post a comment!

Skim and Scratch
Skim and Scratch

Apparently after breakfast, it’s Black Skimmer Bath Time.  We had plenty of opportunities to watch the adult birds come down to the water for a splash.  Usually after birds bathe, they do a wing-flap, so it’s easy to get focused while they are bathing and get ready to hold down the shutter button for the wing shot!  I really liked this one, as the skimmer headed back towards the colony to go take care of her family.

Bath Time Over!
Bath Time Over!

After watching the birds skim and bathe for a while, Michael and I headed up towards the colony to see what we could find.  I found a small skimmer chick, nicely backlit by rising sun.  I loved how the edges of his feathers glowed as he seemed to say, “Pretty soon I’ll be the one flying at the ocean!”

Backlit Baby Black Skimmer
Backlit Baby Black Skimmer

But the best surprise was the newborn skimmer that we found sitting under Mom.  This bird was still damp from the egg.  Mom sat protectively on the hatchling, and I think she was still incubating a second egg.  Then Dad brought in Junior’s very first fish.

Surprise!  Newborn Black Skimmer
Surprise! Newborn Black Skimmer

Did you know what to do with the first food your mom gave you?  Well, Junior didn’t either!  Dad stood there patiently with the fish while the baby wiggled out.  The baby first went to Mom’s beak, and when he didn’t find food, he moved on over to Dad’s beak.  He took the fish and dropped it.  Patient Dad picked it up time and time again, trying to help the baby figure out how to eat it.  Eventually Dad got bored and ate it himself.  I bet Junior got a regurgitated breakfast that morning. Yum!

Nearby, another family seemed to be still in the courtship process.  Both adults were digging a scrape and sitting in it.  I wondered if they were re-nesting after losing their first clutch of chicks.  Then surprise again!  A baby popped out of the scrape.

Hi!  Don't Push Me Out of My Nest!
Hi! Don’t Push Me Out of My Nest!

As cute as the small chicks are, we were distracted by the calls of fellow photographers, announcing that the first teenagers were making their way down to the water.  Cool!  Of course we followed.

Walk and Skim
Walk and Skim

The juvenile skimmers seem to know how to skim by instinct.  You could tell by some of their reactions that it was their first trip down to the water.  They didn’t know what to think of the wetness.  Then they’d immediately stick their beaks down and start skimming.  They couldn’t yet fly, but they walked and skimmed, preparing for that fast-approaching day when they’d be able to fly.

Skimmer Ballerina
Skimmer Ballerina

Sometimes the juvie skimmers would run and flap their wings.  I kept hoping one would take off on his first flight.  But no, not on this trip.  I love the pretty blue tones of the juvie skimmer feathers.  It’s amazing to observe Nature’s palette as baby birds are born  and change into their adult plumages.

Feed Me, Mom, Feed Me Now!
Feed Me, Mom, Feed Me Now!

Now the juvenile Black Skimmers are almost as big as their parents, but they still dance for food like when they were tiny hatchlings.  I’ve watched dozens of juvie birds still try to nuzzle up under Mom while dancing, without realizing that they don’t really fit anymore!  At this age we saw fewer feedings.  I think we also arrived after the adults stopped serving breakfast!

Bark and Fly!
Bark and Fly!

I was really excited to get this shot of the skimmer flying with his mouth open, with the surf breaking behind him.  I also couldn’t resist a chuckle at the three birds below, who waddled in a row as if playing “Follow the Leader.”

Follow the Leader!
Follow the Leader!

All in all it was a great morning!  I resolved to return the next weekend to see if I could photograph some teenage skimmers in flight.  You’ll have to wait for the next blog post for that… :)

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

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3 thoughts on “Juvenile Black Skimmers Meet the Water

  1. Debbie, you’ll have to join us next summer. If you’re not off on another amazing adventure, that is! Michael, I’m sure you have some amazing shots too. It was a great morning! :)

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