Well I Guess These Terned Out OK

Earlier this week I was watching Forster’s Terns fishing in the salt marsh. These birds are likely the most challenging subject I photograph. Forster’s Terns fly EXTREMELY fast! They will occasionally hover over a spot searching for a fish but then go into a very rapid headfirst dive if they see one. They also jet around in random zig zag patterns which can easily make my head spin trying to follow them and hopefully get one in the frame and in focus. I am constantly switching back and forth between finding one in the air with my own eyes, then trying to reacquire it in the camera, then trying to keep up with it as it zips along, then attempting to take the picture at the right moment and…well you get the idea. It can indeed be frustrating but also can be rewarding if I ever do succeed in catching one in action and especially with a fish in it’s mouth as the real bonus!

Other then their super fast flying style they are quite pretty and interesting birds. Notice their long forked tails and the silver/grey ‘frosting’ on their wings. They also frequently fly with their head’s pointed down toward the water, always in search of a meal. As opposed to gulls, these terns do not linger or swim in the water, it’s a quick in and a quick out then back to work in the air! 

Forster's Tern Fishing

Forster's Tern Fishing

Forster's Tern Fishing

Forster's Tern Fishing

Forster's Tern Fishing

Forster's Tern Fishing

Forster's Tern Fishing

Forster's Tern Fishing

86 thoughts on “Well I Guess These Terned Out OK

    • Well these guys pushed my limits for sure. It quickly got to be rather humbling when I decided I was going to concentrate on these terns and after just a bit of shooting I realized I would have to be prepared to quite possibly come back with nothing.
      Thanks for checking them out!

  1. Utterly stunning work. The tail reminds me of swallow tails (in the fish shot)… also near impossible to catch because of the swift darting here and there.

  2. It’s wonderful, what beautiful animals you’ll see again and again, and publish here. Really great! ☺

    • I honestly didn’t know if I was going to come back with anything. These guys are just so fast they had my head spinning for the entire time.
      Thanks very much for looking and your kind comments!

    • Thanks a million Ricky! Along with the fast movement of the birds the lighting was changing continuously as the sun went in and out and the birds moved location. With me shooting in full Manual mode I had to change settings on the fly so to speak. 🙂

  3. Watching terns in Cornwall, trying to catch them with binoculars is hard enough, but these pictures……….incredible! Respect, Phil!

  4. Those are great pics, Phil! They “terned” out much better than o.k. ;o) I don’t know if I’ve ever seen these birds (other than in your photos). Do they tend to dive down for the fish or do a little skimming? The last photo gives me the impression they make quite a splash.
    Very nice set indeed!
    Take care,

    • I’m so embarrassed, now. The pix were so amazing, that I forgot to read the description. Looks like you’ve already answered my question. ;o)

      • Oh no need to feel embarrassed Mickey, but yes indeed these guys are divers and I don’t see them using the skim and snatch technique. They really hit the water quite fast and lucky for them they know when the tide is at the right depth. Hitting the water like that with too low a tide could cause a headache I’m thinking. 🙂
        Thanks so much for checking these out and commenting!

  5. Astonishing shots, Phil. I have photographed terns over the years and they are extremely difficult. I get the occasional winner but not in a sequence like these. I have tern envy!

  6. I know we have terns, and I just discovered we have these terns as a permanent resident. Now I’m going to have to sort out which ones I’m watching as I work. I’m sure some of them are Least Terns – but the larger ones might be these Forster’s.

    Ok. I have to ask. Did you hear about the Mama Tern who was really upset with her boy? He’d fallen in love with a seagull. She was a very nice seagull, but still – Mama wished her boy would stick to his species. As she told him, “One good tern deserves another”.


    • We normally see the Forster’s, Least, and Royal here along the SC coast. I’m not that checked out on the shore birds as I am the large waders, so many look alike it’s hard to tell especially on the peeps. 🙂

      Funny joke! 😀

    • Thanks a bunch Adrian, I couldn’t help that with the title. 🙂 I have a photo of a tern flying and it must have been shaking off water but it looks like it’s flying with it’s wings down and head facing up. I called that one “Ternover” 🙂

  7. I won’t forgive the pun–I’ll celebrate it. Even more than that, though, I’ll celebrate your amazing photos. Sometimes when I see photos that I really like, I think about what it would take for me to get similar results. In this case, however, I don’t have a clue where I would start. The subject is so small and so fast that it seems an impossible task to get it in focus fast and accurately, but your photos are proof that you did it.

    • Well I’m glad you enjoyed the title and the photos Mike! One other challenge facing me when I took these was that I was using full manual exposure for all pics and the lighting and the location of the birds was constantly changing which required me to change settings on the fly so to speak.
      I truly appreciate you looking and your very kind comments.

  8. Having spent time in the Pacific, just the word tern is evocative for me!! These are just gorgeous of your salt marsh terns. I liked the pun!! Made me smile before I even clicked on the post.

      • Well I think the Fairy Terns ( I think that is what they were) were about the first bird pics I took with my first digital camera. So, everything was hard. Anhingas for a long time were difficult because they move so continuously and if not continuously..abruptly. And, when sunning I found them shy on the approach. I have a lot of respect for your flying bird images of all kinds and am keen on trying to do better with my attempts at it!! I still have moments of amazement that we have creatures which can fly on this planet.

  9. Wow, excellent! These guys are awesomely difficult to snap. It’s hysterical seeing photogs trying to do so, as they whip by… Usually accompanied by much cursing. 🙂

    • Well I greatly appreciate your very kind words Emily and I’m thrilled you enjoyed these tern pics! I had to work at this one a bit and although I have seen some again I’ll probably leave them alone for a while now.
      And oh yes, it is definitely a No Butt Shots zone out there. 🙂

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