Matanzas Tern Colony

This used to be the biggest Least Tern nesting colony in Florida.

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Go early, stay low, and enjoy :)


Matanzas Tern Colony Blog Archives

  • My Turn with the Terns!

    My Turn with the Terns!

    My first 2016 trip to the Least Tern colony. I hoped for baby terns and got piggy-back rides instead.
  • Wilson’s Plover Chicks

    Wilson’s Plover Chicks

    Four Wilson's Plover chicks at the Matanzas Tern Colony challenged me to focus as they ran around the beach like little monkeys
  • Independence Day

    Independence Day

    My last visit to the Least Tern colony, where a fledgling danced every time Mom brought in a fish for breakfast!
  • More Precious Moments with the Least Terns

    More Precious Moments with the Least Terns

    Another morning with the precious Least Terns and their two-day-old chick, who yawned, ate lots of fish, and jumped for the camera
  • Precious Moments with the Least Terns

    Precious Moments with the Least Terns

    A quiet morning of lying on the sand yielded some amazing images of two Least Terns with their day-old chick. He was so cute!
  • A Least Tern Chick and More Crabs

    A Least Tern Chick and More Crabs

    This weekend's visit to the Least Tern colony yielded four chicks and many crabs. The chick was so small and cute. :)
  • Lots of Action at the Matanzas Tern Colony!

    Lots of Action at the Matanzas Tern Colony!

    Lots of action at the Matanzas Tern Colony, with Least Tern courtship, fish exchanges, and skirmishes with the predator ghost crabs!
  • Least Tern Courtship

    Least Tern Courtship

    I made my first visit to the Least Tern colony in early May, and the birds were in full courtship mode. Lots of fish exchanges!
  • Least Tern Chicks (from June)

    Least Tern Chicks (from June)

    Back in June, I got to photograph tiny newborn Least Tern chicks with their parents. There was such excitement when Dad brought in a fish!
  • Least Terns in Love

    Least Terns in Love

    I finally got to photograph some Least Tern piggy-back rides this spring!
  • Least Tern Courtship (from June)

    Least Tern Courtship (from June)

    Back in June, I photographed some fun Least Tern courtship. The male's fish was rejected by his unfeeling prospective suitor!
  • Wilson’s Plover Nest

    Wilson’s Plover Nest

    On the morning that I photographed sunrise at Washington Oaks, I also made a stop at the Matanzas Tern Colony. In previous years, I’ve spent some very special mornings lying on the sand, watching the Least Terns and their tiny chicks. I was a little worried that the birds would find a new nesting site after their colony was devastated by Tropical Storm Beryl last year. But they came back! This year the birds seem to have nested higher in the dunes (which is good, as I write this in the wake of Tropical Storm Andrea). The Audubon Society has also roped off a much bigger stretch of the beach this year, probably partially because they were irritated that photographers kept getting too close to the birds last year. I was glad to see that the birds have a bigger space this year, even if it means I don’t get as many good shots. Very few Least Terns nest in Florida, and I think it’s important to protect their beach. Luckily for me, there was a very photographable Wilson’s Plover nest on the beach that morning. I’ve never had the opportunity to photograph nesting Wilson’s Plovers before, so I was …
  • “Learn and Help”

    “Learn and Help”

    I was pleased to donate the use of one of my photographs to American Bird Conservancy’s Help Gulf Birds website aimed at protecting shorebirds on Florida’s coasts. Check it out!
  • Gather Ye Tern Chicks While Ye May…

    Gather Ye Tern Chicks While Ye May…

    Last Saturday I had the privilege of photographing the Least Tern Colony near Fort Matanzas in St. Augustine.  The Least Terns are the smallest terns in their family, and each year they come to St. Augustine in the spring to lay their eggs and raise their families.  Their nests are nothing more than tiny indentations in the sand, and the local Audubon groups monitor the colony nesting site and provide bird stewardship. I was joined by fellow photographers and friends Michael, Raees, Kathy, and Jim.  We found a nest that was very close to the edge of the protected area, and we all settled in the sand to photograph the tiny chicks peeking out from Mama’s wing.  It was tricky to settle low enough to be at a bird’s-eye view, but high enough that you could clearly see the chicks.  I would guesstimate that these chicks were a day or two old.  They spent a lot of time sleeping under Mama. The morning was very cloudy, and it wasn’t until the sun started to peek out that the babies became more active.  We were happy when one crawled out from under Mama, yawned, and plopped in the sand in front …
  • No Vacancies!

    No Vacancies!

    I’m still going through my images from Saturday morning at the Fort Matanzas tern colony.  There was a nest that was very very close to us, and it was incredible!  So I’ll have a full post tomorrow, and until then, here’s a teaser…no vacancies!
  • Least Tern Courtship

    Least Tern Courtship

    Ever since my terrific morning photographing the Least Terns at Fort Matanzas last spring, I’ve been counting the days until their return. I couldn’t wait to have more opportunities to photograph these little birds. They return to Florida in the last few weeks of April and begin their courtship behaviors immediately. Their nests are tiny indentures in the sand, and their babies will hatch in late May to early June. The Least Terns are the smallest in their family of birds. There are several hundred birds in this colony near Fort Matanzas in St. Augustine. The Audubon society ropes off their nesting area so that people cannot accidentally walk on their nests. Not that you could miss the adult birds…they fly, they fuss, and if you get too close, they dive-bomb you! They were not particularly defensive last weekend since their babies haven’t hatched yet. Some birds were already on eggs, and others were still courting. The exchange of fish is an important part of the courtship ritual. The male will fly in with a fish, try to find his mate in the group of birds below, then land and hand her the fish. Sometimes she accepts it willingly. Sometimes …
  • Somewhere over the Rainbow…Least Terns Fly!

    Somewhere over the Rainbow…Least Terns Fly!

    I went back to the Least Tern Colony at Summer Haven this morning.  My friend Michael Libbe came with me, and we had high hopes for a sunny morning and nice close nests.  Instead we got fog, a slight drizzle, and not-so-cooperative birds.  The nests that were close to the edge of the roped-off area were not there this time.  Probably some of the chicks have fledged, and the birds may have moved their nests farther back too.  Still, I did pretty well with The Beast, and I think Michael got some great shots with his 100-400 also. We got to St. Augustine around 6:15 in the morning.  We’d been watching the clouds as we drove up I-95, and we quickly realized that there would not be a spectacular sunrise.  (I’d checked the weather the night before, too! :-p)  So we were pleasantly surprised to get to the beach and see the sun peeking through the clouds.  I put on my wide angle lens and set up the camera to auto-bracket the exposures.  When I got home, I combined them using HDR in Photoshop. As the light brightened, I turned my attention to the birds.  Until Michael pointed out the …
  • Cute Baby Birds at the Summer Haven Least Tern Colony are Totally Worth the Drive!

    Cute Baby Birds at the Summer Haven Least Tern Colony are Totally Worth the Drive!

    Rich thought I was insane when I woke up at 4am on my off-Friday and drove up to St. Augustine.  He thought I was even crazier when he heard me describe how I lowered the tripod and lay flat on my stomach to photograph the birds.  But look at the results…. :-D The Least Terns come to nest at St. Augustine each year.  Last week I drove up to Matanzas Inlet and did not find them, then a helpful Audubon person redirected me to this year’s colony location at Summer Haven.  I got there at sunrise, walked out to the beach, and immediately heard the terns.  They nest up at the edge of the dunes, inside a protected area.  I edged up to the area carefully, trying not to disturb the birds.  They are incredibly protective of their nests, and some of the nests are quite close to the edge of the roped-off area.  The whole colony takes off to attack any people who get too close.  I found that I did well by finding a good couple of nests, getting low quickly, and then sitting still until they got used to me.  So I actually took all these pictures …
  • A Preview of Coming Distractions…Summer Haven Tern Colony

    A Preview of Coming Distractions…Summer Haven Tern Colony

    I found the Matanzas terns! They have moved south to Summer Haven. (Thanks Monique!) I spent a great morning at the colony this morning. I have so many fun pictures that I can’t finish the post tonight, so here’s a tease. Check back tomorrow for more!!
  • Tern Colony at Matanzas Inlet

    Tern Colony at Matanzas Inlet

    I’d heard about a Least Tern Colony at Matanzas Inlet.  It’s the biggest in Florida, numbering up to 200 nests (and yay for Audubon’s success in closing the beach to vehicles that were running over the nests and chicks!!) Since I was in the neighborhood this morning, I stopped by to check it out.  Except there wasn’t much to see!  The nesting zone is up in the dunes, and it is roped off so that people can’t inadventently step on the birds.  Their nests are just little hollows in the sand, easily missed by even the most careful people.  I was careful not to get too close, since disturbing the adults in late-morning heat can be detrimental to the eggs.  But all I could find were two nests.  It was a little disappointing. I did get a consolation prize, though.  There was a Wilson’s Plover with three tiny fuzzballs–I mean, three tiny chicks.  They ran up and down the beach very quickly on those tiny legs.  They were hard to catch with the camera!  I was hand-holding the Beast, too.  But I got one decent shot.