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One good tern deserves another

(Yeah I know, I've used the joke before.)

I always enjoy tern-watching on the coast. More to the point tern-photographing, as I find it almost impossible to identify tern species in flight unless I can "freeze frame" them with a photograph, and study fine details at leisure. This is a Royal Tern, the common large tern of the Outer Banks:

And here is something a little more interesting--though I didn't realize it until I looked at the photo back home.

A Caspian Tern. Note the subtle yellow and black tip to its coral-red beak, and the heavy black patches under the wingtips. The black forehead is also a giveaway. Royal Terns have black foreheads too in breeding plumage, but they start molting in late May, so by mid-June they all have, as it were, receding hairlines.

Of course, here in Ottawa, Royal Tern would be the exciting one! It's an exclusively coastal bird, whereas Caspian Terns are occasionally seen along the Ottawa River in migration.

A Least Tern carries a fish back to its young. These terns are as small as songbirds, delicate and swallowlike as they flit over the ocean surf. While most of their relatives prefer the safety of salt marshes or deserted islands for raising young, Least Terns nest right on the beaches of Cape Hatteras. Like other beach-nesters, they are very vulnerable to human disturbance, so at Outer Banks their preferred (pristine, undeveloped) beaches are cordoned off during the breeding season.

This is a Good Thing. But I still envy the person who got close enough to a colony to take this, perhaps the most adorable nature photo I've ever seen.

More Hatteras highlightsSummer 2012 Hatteras Triplist


July 7th, 2012 at 7:27 pm
Adorable terns are adorable!

The first pic conveys a feeling of great speed... that is a very streamlined bird.

July 7th, 2012 at 8:35 pm
Ok, that nesting photo is adorable!

July 8th, 2012 at 3:50 pm
Great tern photos....two of those birds would be lifers for me! Interestingly enough, I also saw a tern today, a Common Tern hunting over the river at Shirley's Bay....I love the way they splash into the water to catch fish. No photos, though.

July 9th, 2012 at 1:31 am
You'd be sure to get lifers if you've never been to the south Atlantic coast before! To date I've seen 20 types of birds in Cape Hatteras that I have yet to see anywhere else. (In June, that is. It's less productive that way in winter since then you find a lot of the birds that you can also see in Ottawa, or maybe Atlantic Canada.)