Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Tern Wars

Summer is ending soon, which means less time for Biscayne Bay. During the fall months before camping season begins, I head over to Chokoloskee a few times. It is during those trips that I attempt to photograph one of my favorite bird subjects, the tern; specifically, royal and sandwich. This weekend, I will indulge in another Chokoloskee weekend, this time in the company of a couple dozen kayak fishermen participating in a friendly tournament. I promised them that I would not attempt to photograph anyone because my camera lens brings terrible luck to the fishermen. So while they go their way looking for redfish, snook and trout, I hope to capture some scenes from what I call "The Tern Wars".

Four years ago, I discovered that the terns show up in great number starting in August and September. They are interesting subjects to photograph as they fight amongst themselves for space on the many pilings near the marina. They also have the large pelican to compete with (the tern is always on the losing end). I have found that if I sit near the pilings and if there is an easterly wind, I can capture scenes of a bird flying into a piling while it scares off another. It is quite fun to look over the photos at the end of the day to see the various interactions between these feisty birds. As I prepare for this weekend, I went back to some of those earlier photos and include a few here. As I look at them, I notice the challenges of photographing these scenes, and they are many.

First, most of the pilings are very tall and this makes the angle steep, especially at low tides. A high tide will raise me a foot or two, which helps, but there is still about a 10-15 ft difference most of the time. At such a steep angle, lighting is difficult with the underside of the wings shadowed. To overcome this, I attempt shots of birds that are banking or raising their wings enough to capture the sunlight on them. I've also included the flash on occasions.

Another challenge is the unattractive pilings that are often splattered with the last stage of digestion. If I can, I minimize the amount of the piling that comes into the frame. I have no problem doing post-processing to erase some of it or at least tone down the white highlights. Speaking of pilings, another challenge is the arrangement of them (see photo below). There are so many of them close together that it is difficult to isolate one, especially from a canoe. It's also difficult to focus on an incoming bird when it is flying between the pilings as you attempt to track it. I try to get my boat positioned where I will have at least a couple choices for clear views of the birds. And last, the other challenge has to do with the wind. If the wind is westerly, the birds will be facing away from me, no point even trying to capture them when that happens.

My goal is to continue trying to capture these birds and hope for the best. With some luck, they will be available to photograph this weekend. If not, guess I will have to photograph a fisherman in a kayak. In the meantime, enjoy these preview scenes from "The Tern Wars".


  1. Fabulous series! How lucky you are to live in such a wildlife rich area :)

  2. Thank you! Yes, yes I am lucky. :-)

  3. Great shots Connie. They really show their behaviour well.