ONE GOOD TERN DESERVES… A FISH
DELPHI CLUB BEACH, ABACO
The LEAST TERN (Sternula antillarum, as it is now designated) is a small tern of the Americas and Caribbean, a very pretty, delicate little bird. It is a rare a vagrant to Europe, with a single example recorded in Great Britain. It is quick and manoeuvrable in flight, slightly hunched and ready to assume the position shown below after hovering over a likely spot for small fish. This image shows the bird coming out of its hover, and at the very start of its rapid plunge to the water. It’s here for illustrative purposes only – I realise it is somewhat inept as a photograph, but frankly you can never be sure when the dive is going to happen. Unless you have lightning reactions, a refrangible apex lens and a zircon-encrusted focal-zone flange, you’ll be lucky to do much better. Oh, and steady hands.
I had a lucky break on the Delphi beach one day, when I was taking photos of Wilson’s plovers and their new chicks (soon to feature here). A least tern appeared from nowhere and landed at the water’s edge within a few yards of me. I had no time to rethink my settings – a perennial problem at the best of times – and I simply aimed the camera and managed to squeeze off 3 shots before the bird took off again. One was a blurry fail, one is the header picture… and the 3rd captured the bird as it turned its head. You can see that, even though this is a small and light bird, its feet have sunk right into the soft, damp white sand.
Another day on the beach produced a more measured opportunity. A least tern landed quite close to me, and was so preoccupied with its preening routine that it let me creep closer, all the while keeping a beady black eye on me. In the top shot, it has just become aware of me behind it. I was lucky it chose to stay and let me watch.