Sandwich Terns – Love is in the air – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/1600, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light
I can recall clearly the day I took this photograph of Sandwich Terns mating, I was sitting very low in a tidal lagoon on the north beach of Fort De Soto County Park in Florida, it was very warm and the water of the lagoon felt great on my skin when these two terns started a breeding display. When the male mounted the female and I filled up my buffer a few times while photographing them.
Love is in the air.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Sanderling in nonbreeding plumage – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/1250, ISO 200, Nikkor 70-300mm VR at 300mm, natural light
Sanderlings look very different in appearance during breeding season and winter and novice birders might even think they are two different species. I’ve heard people call nonbreeding Sanderlings “drab” and “plain” and while they might not be as colorful in nonbreeding plumage I personally wouldn’t call them drab or plain. I would, however; call them a challenge to expose properly and to get them in the frame because they are very active shorebirds when feeding.
The Sanderling above is in nonbreeding plumage and it was racing down the beach hunting for prey when I photographed it. At first I wasn’t happy with the motion blur of the bird’s right foot but the more I looked at this image the more I liked the motion blur because it indicates movement.
Sanderling in breeding plumage – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/500, ISO 400, Nikkor 70-300mm at 300mm, natural light
This image taken about a month later than the first image shows a Sanderling in breeding plumage, it was created during May which is about the time that the Sanderlings head north to their breeding grounds. Although the belly is still white and the legs and bill are still black the head, neck and back of the bird is quite different. Rufous is the color I think of when seeing a Sanderling in breeding plumage because that color is evident in the head, neck and back of the bird.
A side note; I often hear people say you must have a long (read expensive) lens to photograph birds and in some cases you do actually need a long lens to get frame filling images of birds however in some situations you can get those even with a shorter focal length. Both of the images above were taken with an inexpensive Nikkor 70-300mm VR lens and what made them possible is that these birds were habituated to human presence on the beach so they weren’t as nervous around me and I used very slow belly crawls to get close to them. By being low I appeared less threatening to them and at times the birds would come in so close I could not focus on them. Down & dirty can and does pay off.
More Sanderling images
Caspian Tern in flight – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/2500, ISO 500, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 280mm, natural light
Caspian Terns (Hydroprogne caspia) are North America’s largest tern with a wingspan of 50 inches and weighing in at 1.4 pounds. The image above shows an adult going into nonbreeding plumage coming in for a landing at Fort De Soto’s north beach during the month of September.
Caspian Tern on a mudflat – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/1000, ISO 160, Nikkor 70-300mm VR at 300mm, natural light
This image shows an adult Caspian Tern in breeding plumage with a solid black, glossy cap, this was taken during the month of May also at Fort De Soto’s north beach.
I am fortunate that I see these large terns here in Utah as well. I usually hear their harsh “kraa” long before I see them. Although I have seen a few lately they will soon be gone to their wintering grounds.
More Caspian Tern images
When I moved from Florida to Utah I felt it was fortunate that some of the nonbreeding birds I used to see in Florida during the winter I now get to see in breeding plumage on their nesting grounds.
Nonbreeding Forster’s Tern – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/800, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light
The image above shows a nonbreeding Forster’s Tern (Sterna forsteri) that I photographed at Fort De Soto County Park in Florida during the month of February a few years ago. Note the dark bill and the dark mask with the pale nape on this bird.
Breeding Forster’s Tern on nest – Nikon D200, f8, 1/2000, ISO 320, -0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light
The photograph above was taken at Bear River National Wildlife Refuge in Utah of an adult Forster’s Tern in breeding plumage on a nest that this bird and its mate were building. Note the black cap and how the bill is now orange with a distinct black tip.
I wish I would have been able to photograph the Forster’s Terns as they raised their young but this was taken the day before the Bear River closed the roads for construction that summer. It was a real pity too because this nest was not far from the gravel road of the auto tour route. Barring any unforeseen flooding this year the roads should remain open and I might just get the opportunity to photograph these graceful terns with their young.
More Forster’s Tern images
Dunlin in nonbreeding plumage
D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/1250, ISO 200, 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light
Dunlins (Calidris alpina) are one of North America’s most abundant and widespread shorebirds. In winter Dunlins exhibit drab, gray-brown plumage and gather in large flocks on coastal mudflats. They feed by probing for clams, worms, insect larvae, crustaceans, small fish and plants. It also feeds in seasonal freshwater wetlands and in flooded fields.
Dunlin in breeding plumage
D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/800, ISO 160, 70-300mm VR at 300mm, natural light
The Dunlins breeding plumage is much more colorful than in the winter. Once known as “Old Red Back” and “Red-backed Sandpiper” due to the rich chestnut colored feathers on the back. It is unmistakable during breeding season because of the red on the back and the black plumage on its belly. They breed in Artic and sub-Artic moist tundra, near ponds and prefer drier islands for nesting sites. The nest is a simple cup shape lined with lichens, leaves and grasses. They have one brood per year with around 4 eggs.
Similar appearing species are the Stilt and Curlew Sandpipers.
Looking at the images above; in breeding and nonbreeding plumage, it is almost difficult to believe they are the same species.
More Dunlin images