Father’s Day at the Black Skimmer colony on Florida’s west coast is beginning to be a tradition in our family. My dad and I love to spend the afternoon together, with an early dinner at Chili’s before we head to the beach to laugh at the antics of silly birds. After seeing lots of mating three weeks before Father’s Day, with the birds’ 21-25 day incubation period, I figured we’d be just in time to start seeing tiny babies coming out of the egg. Wrong! My jaw dropped open when we walked out on the beach and saw a bunch of two-week-old juveniles running around the beach.
When we first arrived at the beach, it was HOT. The baby birds know how to cool off. They are too young to walk down to the water, but they hatched in a cool(er) scrape in the ground and they know that the sand is cooler a few inches deep. Lots of little heads were sticking out to say hello to us.
If you’ve watched a songbird make a nest, you know it takes several days and much care to bring in all the sticks and arrange them into a nest. On the other hand, shorebird nests are nothing more than scrape in the sand. Once the juvenile birds are big enough, they create their own nests by kicking back the sand themselves. Their scrapes provide them with a place to cool off and some protection when they flatten themselves into the indentation to hide from predators. Photographing the flying sand can be fun, too!
This little guy was one of the smaller chicks that we saw on Father’s Day. He shared his scrape with his several-days-older brother. Each time the little guy emerged, my dad’s and my cameras would snap to him. He was an active little guy. Every once in a while he’d run and stretch his wings. Those moments come without notice and are fun to try to catch!
In the animated GIF above, a slightly older chick demonstrates his hop-skip-jump routine. He’s learning to stretch his wings, and as soon as his feathers finish growing in, he’ll be off to the water and then he’ll take his first flight. It’s hard to believe that’ll happen in just a few short weeks. Baby birds grow up so fast!
I had too much lens for this pair of chicks. They spent the afternoon begging for food from Mom and Dad. I guess the fish weren’t coming in fast enough, because they started fighting. It seemed mean, but then again, self-defense is a good thing for a bird to learn. It’s definitely a case of “survival of the fittest” at this colony, where the predators lurk overhead and the worn-out parents will kill a chick if it wanders too far from home.
The stick in the foreground seemed to be a favorite hang-out for the babies. There was always a juvie skimmer resting behind it. When they got hungry or bored, they played with the stick and tried to eat it too…
Each time a juvie would stretch his wings, I’d try to focus on him quickly. It’s easier said than done! This was my favorite “in-flight” image of the day…
I certainly got hot sitting in the sand that afternoon. But these little birds don’t know what air-conditioning or an ice-cold drink are. Their idea of shade is when Mom lets them sit under her wing or under her tail. The only place they know in their first two weeks of life is the hot patch of sand in a roped-off section of the beach. Boy will that change over the course of the next year as they learn to fly! Some would say that the sky is their limit when it comes to seeing the world. :)
But for the next few weeks, the hot beach will be their home, and they cool themselves off by opening their mouths and panting (kinda like a dog). This one stretched his wing for me to show off the feathers that he’s developing. Yep, he’s certainly on his way to being a big boy. I can’t wait to return to see him fly! But before that, I have more photos from this trip to share in my next post…
Want to learn more about nature photography at Black Skimmer Colony?
Check out my Black Skimmer 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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