This spring I’ve visited the Matanzas tern colony several times, first to see the Least Terns mating, then in hopes of seeing young chicks. The terns are nesting a little late this year, and it took some extra visits before I finally spotted fuzzy cuteness. I spent several hours sprawled on the sand, watching a precious family as the two adults learned to care for their day-old chick.
The baby spent most of his morning under Mom’s wing. It’s nice and cool in there, where he’s well-protected from the hot sun.
Little babies sleep a lot. They’ll sleep for half an hour at a time. It takes patience to photograph them. Mom was still incubating another egg, so she also tended to stick to one place.
The best moments were when Junior woke up. He’d wiggle his way out from under Mom and strike out to explore the beach in his immediate vicinity. He went as far as his little wobbly legs would carry him! He reminded me of the chick I photographed several years ago, who I nicknamed Magellan because he was the first to circumnavigate Mom. :)
Junior was really good at stretching those little wing stubs as he walked around. At times he would fall down because he was still learning to walk, yet he’d do these cute little hop-skip-jumps and stretch his little stubby wings.
At times all the adults would fly off because they saw a predator in the vicinity. Junior would flatten himself on the sand, practically invisible to all that flew overhead. Nature’s camouflage is pretty cool. Then Mom would fly back in and there’d be a few quick seconds to photograph the interactions between mother and child.
The tiny chick was really good at stretching. Sometimes he would lunge forward and stretch his legs behind him. Maybe Mommy told him he had to do ten stretches before his next fish.
Speaking of fish, boy did this little guy get excited when he spotted Dad flying in with breakfast! Mom and Dad seemed to call to each other as Dad approached, and Junior would hop out all excited and go running to meet Dad.
Dad landed with a fish, and both parents looked on anxiously as the tiny chick figured out the mechanics of eating. It takes a lot of effort to swallow a fish that’s half as big as you are! The little bird seemed to know instinctively how to position the fish in his mouth and swallow it with one big gulp.
The beach isn’t a safe place for a tiny tern chick. Ghost crabs lurk everywhere. One got awfully close to the nest, and even closer to my camera, as I watched the parents throw their wings in the air and try to scare him off. Luckily it worked. The chick didn’t even seem to know what happened.
I remembered to take a little video of this sweet family as they cuddled on the beach. It shows the “change of the guard”, when Dad flew in to take over incubation duties while Mom went off to stretch her wings. Junior wasn’t interested in staying under the wing, though. He was a big one-day-old who was asserting his independence!
The sun got hotter and the shadows got harsh, but it was hard to tear myself away from these birds. Mom tucked in Junior for his next nap and promised to take good care of him. Junior gave me a big goodbye yawn as I crept quietly away. :)
Want to learn more about nature photography at Matanzas Tern Colony?
Check out my Matanzas Tern Colony 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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