Tern love

The terns have been on eggs for weeks now, in all their exposed locations along the shore. Their dedication is inspiring; no less so because of the challenges they face.

The opportunity to watch them, to babysit them – as I’ve come to call it lately – reveals the little dramas that fill their days. Least Terns seem prone to drama. They continue to court and strut, and flirt with fish, even after the eggs have been laid.

Sometimes they even seem to dance, making even a mundane nest exchange into theater for the careful observer. They’re aggressive and anxious, even with their mates. Neighbors are met with outright hostility for the slightest trespass. A gull or Fish Crow overhead sends the small colony into panicked flight.

I’ve been trying for the past week or two to get a photo of a nest with eggs to share here, but haven’t accomplished that yet. The few looks I’ve had are too brief for a photo, but I can tell you this: the eggs are speckled with rock and sky and summer sands, and with the shadows woven by the beach grass that surrounds them.

Chicks have started to hatch in the last couple days and they are nearly as undetectable as the eggs they leave behind. Until they move, that is! There are two hidden in the tuft of beach grass to the right in the photo above.

Unlike Piping Plovers who are off and running to feed themselves within hours, the Least Terns scuttle around in the dunes waiting to be fed. Theirs is a steep learning curve; before they can learn to fish, these babies must learn to fly.

Until then, they rely on their parents for food and their cryptic coloration to keep them safe. “I am not here” say the markings on their sand-colored bodies, the lines and patches magically drawing your eye away from them. No sooner do you catch sight of one, then, look away and it vanishes.

Please click on the pic above to make it larger. Let yourself fall in love a little… I did!

This pic isn’t mine, but I include it for the “Awww” factor.

I’ve had some really wonderful interactions with beach visitors so far… most are respectful of the closed area of the beach and actually interested in the birds. Fun! I’m looking forward to setting up the scope there one of these days so others can see them and share some of the love.

5 thoughts on “Tern love”

  1. Such a tough life these birds live. The tern colony at Nickerson Beach shares its space with black skimmers who eat the babies. I watched a baby looking for its parents who were not around. I don’t know if they were gone or not but I couldn’t stick around to see what happened to it. I’ve been dive-bombed by them, too. Scary!

  2. Nice.

    Here we have an organization called Beachwatchers. Members have had several hours of fairly stiff lessons about all aspects of our local beaches and their inhabitants. Then a Beachwatcher gives back 80 hours of volunteer efforts on the local beaches – much of it providing docent/interpretation-type work for visitors. A great service.

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