Taking terns - sassy, feisty & awe-inspiring

by Robin Fuller October. 12, 2020 140 views

The Arctic tern spends northern summers in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of Europe, Asia, and North America and then migrates to the Antarctic coast for the southern summer, returning 6 months later. Wow! They master land, air and water. Impressive! And they are feisty characters, with no apparent fear, inclined to attack anyone who goes near their nests. Altogether an amazing bird!

In this post I will also cover Common terns and Sandwich terns which are impressive though not so much as their globe-traversing cousin. All three species are 'Amber listed' so not of the highest 'Red Listed' concern but with worrying questions over their conservation status. All three species breed on the Farne Islands.

Arctic, Common and Sandwich terns all breed on the Farne's Staple Island and, when feeding young, the sky is full of terns plying back and forth to the fishing grounds.

Arctic, Common and Sandwich terns all breed on the Farne's Staple Island and, when feeding young, the sky is full of terns plying back and forth to the fishing grounds.

An Artic tern with the all-red bill and distinctive swallow tail.

An Artic tern with the all-red bill and distinctive swallow tail.

An Arctic tern is totally unconcerned about my presence nearby - this photo was taken with no zoom whatsoever.

An Arctic tern is totally unconcerned about my presence nearby - this photo was taken with no zoom whatsoever.

Arctic terns are gound nesting birds having a single brood with 1-3 eggs.

Arctic terns are gound nesting birds having a single brood with 1-3 eggs.

An Arctic tern chick waits expectantly while its parents are off fishing. This youngster will have flown to Antarctica a few months after this photo was taken and, as this is a photo from 2016 , may have done so 4 times already; and could do so up to 30 times in a lifetime - incredible eh?

An Arctic tern chick waits expectantly while its parents are off fishing. This youngster will have flown to Antarctica a few months after this photo was taken and, as this is a photo from 2016 , may have done so 4 times already; and could do so up to 30 times in a lifetime - incredible eh?

Two older Arctic tern chicks at their well-trampled nest site, waiting for their next meal of fish.

Two older Arctic tern chicks at their well-trampled nest site, waiting for their next meal of fish.

An Arctic tern arrives home with a Sand eel for its chick. Unlike Puffins, they can only catch and carry one Sand eel at a time so they have to go back and forth many times to feed a hungry youngster. It is a good job they are adept fliers.

An Arctic tern arrives home with a Sand eel for its chick. Unlike Puffins, they can only catch and carry one Sand eel at a time so they have to go back and forth many times to feed a hungry youngster. It is a good job they are adept fliers.

Young terns, bills agape, as the parent bird arrives with a Sand eel. These birds are so close I only used a minimal zoom and now regret not using wide angle so as to see the adult bird in full. If photography were not full of missed opportunities we might all stay at home.

Young terns, bills agape, as the parent bird arrives with a Sand eel. These birds are so close I only used a minimal zoom and now regret not using wide angle so as to see the adult bird in full. If photography were not full of missed opportunities we might all stay at home.

Arctic terns may completely ignore you but the more feisty birds will attack your head to scare you away from their nest sites. If you are not wearing a hat they can draw blood.

Arctic terns may completely ignore you but the more feisty birds will attack your head to scare you away from their nest sites. If you are not wearing a hat they can draw blood.

They may go for your face ...

They may go for your face ...

.... so a little extra protection may be required.

.... so a little extra protection may be required.

Few bird species give you such an opportunity for in flight close ups as an Arctic tern ....

Few bird species give you such an opportunity for in flight close ups as an Arctic tern ....

... but they come in so close and so quickly, it is hard to reduce the focal length to get the full picture.

... but they come in so close and so quickly, it is hard to reduce the focal length to get the full picture.

Common terns have a circumpolar distribution, breeding in temperate and subarctic regions of Europe, Asia and North America. They are strongly migratory, wintering in coastal tropical and subtropical regions. There are not so many Common terns on Staple Island which seems to be dominated by the Arctic terns but it is good to see them side by side to help identify them on future occasions.

Common terns are distinguished by the black tip to the red bill.

Common terns are distinguished by the black tip to the red bill.

Just like the Arctic terns on Farne, the Common terns will calmly ignore the nearby photographer.

Just like the Arctic terns on Farne, the Common terns will calmly ignore the nearby photographer.

Common terns are ground nesting birds like their Arctic cousins.

Common terns are ground nesting birds like their Arctic cousins.

A Common tern chick awaits a meal - as you can see the summer rangers on Staple monitor territories and individuals helping to keep tabs on population dynamics.

A Common tern chick awaits a meal - as you can see the summer rangers on Staple monitor territories and individuals helping to keep tabs on population dynamics.

Sandwich terns breed in the Palearctic from Europe to the Caspian Sea wintering in South Africa, India and Sri Lanka. They seem to be more colonial in their choice of breeding sites than the Arctic and Common terns.

Sandwich terns have the distinctive crested head, all black in adults, streaky in juveniles, and a smart yellow tip to the black bill.

Sandwich terns have the distinctive crested head, all black in adults, streaky in juveniles, and a smart yellow tip to the black bill.

Sandwich tern juveniles and nearly fledged youndsters - with a few Puffins (which never want to miss a photo opportunity) and a Black-headed gull (making a fuss as usual).

Sandwich tern juveniles and nearly fledged youndsters - with a few Puffins (which never want to miss a photo opportunity) and a Black-headed gull (making a fuss as usual).

I really admire terns. The trans-global migration of the Arctic tern is almost incredible. Thirty return journeys in a lifetime would be 750,000 miles or 1,350,000 km. I'm not sure that any whales manage Arctic to Antarctic migration - please correct me if I'm wrong. Add the sassy characters of the Arctic terns and their elegant mastery of the three elements and the word 'extraordinary' is truly an understatement - awe-inspiring? Yes, certainly awe-inspiring.

Join the conversation
4
There are 4 comments , add yours!
Pete 1 month ago

wow amazing to be able to get this close and what a great variety of birds.
awesome photos

1 month ago Edited
Robin Fuller Replied to Pete 1 month ago

More Farne birds to come soon.

1 month ago Edited
Bob Chappell 1 month, 1 week ago

Excellent set of tern shots Robin. I love photographing terns in flight for their elegant wing shapes, but this year haven' been able to get to any suitable sites to photograph them.

1 month, 1 week ago Edited
Nick Strong 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Awesome!

1 month, 2 weeks ago Edited
Up
Copyright @Photoblog.com