Each spring the least terns migrate back to Florida to find a mate, nest and raise the next generation of terns. The least terns are a lot of fun to photograph whether it be their courtship rituals, ghost crab skirmishes, or their cute little chicks. This past spring was particularly rewarding for photography so here’s a glimpse of life on the beach for a least tern. Click the images to view larger.
Most trips to visit the least tern colony start well before sunrise. In fact one of the best places in Florida to photograph a sunrise is very close to the least tern colony. This particular beach has exposed coquina rocks on the beach that make for great foreground subjects for a sunrise. I made a few trips to the colony this year, but there was only one morning where I had some decent light and clouds for a good sunrise image.
On one particular morning, I sat down in the sand to observe the least terns and see if I could find a nest with a chick. Little did I know at the time that I had chosen to sit right in front of a Wilson’s plover nest. The nest was well hidden and I didn’t see the eggs in the grasses until the adult plover returned to incubate the eggs further. I kept hoping that these eggs would hatch during one of my visits but it was not to be. The least terns and the Wilson’s plovers nested later in the year than usual. I found out later that these plovers hatched just a couple of days after my last visit. Hopefully I’ll have better luck next year.
Prospects for finding a least tern nest with chicks wasn’t looking very good on my first trip. I brought back far more images of the ghost crab skirmishes on my first two visits than anything else. But things began to look up when I found one adult least tern with an egg shell. An empty egg shell means that there is a newly hatched chick. The adult promptly flew away with the eggshell to dispose of it and I held out hope that I would get to see the newly hatched chick.
While the newly hatched chick never made an appearance that day, I did find one that was about a day old in a neighboring nest. Least terns nest right in the sand on the beach, so a “nest” is really just a depression or scrape in the sand where the eggs are laid. This little chick was patiently waiting for his little brother or sister to come in the world. While he waited for his sibling, he provided a couple of hours of great entertainment and photos for me.
At one point he decided he would try to climb over mom’s back instead of going around her.
Needless to say at only a day old, that didn’t quite turn out like he might have hoped.
After a while he became more adventurous and wandered a few feet from the scrape so that I could get some images of by himself.
My day on the sand only got better from there, but I’ll save those images for my next post. Stay tuned!