Friday, August 24, 2007
Black Tern Magic
Last night from about 7:00 to 7:45 pm, while birding and watching for Common Nighthawks for our local nighthawk survey, we suddenly saw a small, distant, whitish bird flying over the water in our cove in front of our property, "Bobolink Farm", in NH. There's that moment in birding where your brain scrambles to catch up with your eyes. Our eyes were telling us that this was no shorebird, a likely candidate for that habitat and time of year. No, this bird had a fluttery flight and was swooping over the water. Adrenaline rising, and hope emerging for what we suspected it might be....
"Grab the scope and get on it while I keep it in my binoculars,"I blurted to Don.
Near faster than the speed of light, he had it in the scope. Milliseconds count when you're a birder hoping to see a rare bird.
"Black Tern!!!" he shouted, confirming our suspicions.
The amazing thing is that, once before, in June 5, 2005 a Black Tern in adult summer plumage visited us and foraged over the cove. Could this be the same bird?? There was something confident about the way our new bird fed in the cove that made us think it had been here before.
It's unusual to see a Black Tern inland in New Hampshire. When seen in New Hampshire, they're usually spotted from the coast. They breed north of us in Canada, Maine, the upper Midwest and parts of the West.
For about 45 minutes we watched it feed and swoop over the water. Seeing it was unbothered by a fisherman out in a boat, we got in our canoe and quietly drifted. It fed all around us, sometimes coming somewhat near. What a thrill!
Photographing it was another matter. Photographing terns in flight under the best of conditions, such as bright daylight and close proximity, is challenging because they're fast, erratic fliers. Getting shots of this distant bird in cloudy twilight, in a rocking canoe with husband and Phoebe (our Corgi who loves canoe rides) was, well... As I've said before, I love a photographic challenge, and if you never try for the shots, you'll never get them. I appreciatively kiss my sharp 300 mm IS Canon lens and Canon 1D Mark II camera with its superfast autofocus abilities. Even at the high ISO settings ranging from 800 to 1000 (to compensate for low light) and 1/200 of a second f stop that I was shooting at, the photos are blog publishable. I like the soft, grainy quality of the images; they feel almost like watercolor paintings.
In addition to the tern, we were treated to 16 Common Nighthawks who fed in the air above us, some while we were out in the canoe. It's that time year for Common Nighthawk migration, so keep your eyes on the sky during the next week and, if you see nighthawks, report them to your local birding hotline or birding organization.
Eventually the light faded and the dusk deepened. The luminous moon reflected on the water's surface. We could barely see the tern flying around the cove. It gave a few sharp "keef, keef" calls and went out of sight. Goodybye tern, safe migration journey.
Sometimes birding is sheer magic.
Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2007