Many times wildlife photography is about the chase. Usually that means the photographer is chasing opportunities for great subjects. But sometimes the subjects are involved in the chase.
As many know, one of my favorite subjects for bird photography are the black skimmers that nest on Florida’s Gulf coast. The closest nesting colony is a 2.5 hour drive from our home, so I don’t get over there very often unless I plan to spend a weekend. This past year the colony was wiped out by a tropical storm, and by the time the birds began nesting again, I only had one opportunity to get over there. So I wanted to make sure I got the most out of my opportunity.
We spent a week on the beach in late May, so on a beautiful cloudless morning, I set out to see what I might find at the colony. Due to the tropical storm and the late start by the skimmers, I wasn’t able to be there when the chicks begin to hatch. That’s the best time to visit, but there are other opportunities as well. There were plenty of adults and there was plenty of action to photograph. I’ve always wanted to photograph what I call “the chase”. The chase is when a flock of gulls descend upon an unsuspecting skimmer as he is returning to the colony with a fish for his bride. The chase begins at ground level with the gulls in hot pursuit.
To evade the gulls, the skimmers try to gain altitude to have some additional maneuvering room.
Unfortunately, the skimmers are designed for low level flying at slow speeds. Their wing span and body shape are specifically designed to keep them aloft just inches above the surface of the water. So climbing to avoid the gulls gives the gulls the advantage.
The gulls jockey for position and attempt to steal the fish from the skimmer’s beak.
Eventually, the skimmer gives up choosing to take his chances on getting another fish for his bride.
While the skimmer’s battle is over, the gull’s battle has just begun.
In the course of battle, some gulls will resort to acrobatics to gain an advantage.
Eventually a winner is crowned, although he will be chased by the other gulls in hopes that he might carelessly drop his winnings.
This entire sequence was shot over the course of 5 seconds. It’s quick and it’s exciting to watch.
So while I am disappointed that I didn’t get to see and photograph any chicks this past summer, I did have a great morning with the skimmers. Hopefully next year will be even better.