Monday, August 11, 2008

We Get Another Tern

We headed out to San Joaquin Marsh yesterday afternoon for a mellow afternoon of birding and some sunset photography, and instead got sucked into an adrenaline-fueled race around the ponds that landed us—the single photo above: one of two Black Terns we found flying around from pond to pond.

Glenn and another photographer were about 20 feet away from me, shooting the numerous Killdeer and Semipalmated Plovers in Pond C, while I scanned Pond D, trying to ID the dozens of peeps scrambling about. Suddenly, two dark, narrow-winged birds swooped down and circled the pond: Black Terns!

I called the guys over, and they both got good looks at the birds before they flew off towards the big ponds in the back. We were thrilled; this was a new bird for both of us, and one we weren't expecting to see.

"Which way did they go?" Glenn asked.

"That way," I said, pointing toward Pond 1.

"Let's go over there and see if we can find them."

The other photographer smiled. "Yeah, and they'll be sitting there waiting for you when you get there."

Common sense always loses out to the desire to see a new bird. And for Glenn, the desire to photograph one.

As we walked towards Pond 1, one of the terns flew overhead, squeaking loudly and swooping low over Pond B before flying back towards Pond 1. (I love how all the ponds at San Joaquin have such evocative names.) There, Glenn managed to get the shot posted above.

At Pond 1, we saw the Black Terns in the distance, diving and plucking prey delicately off the surface of the water. We raced around the pond, trying to find a better angle from which to photograph them. Then we saw them overhead again, flying over Pond 2. Then we ran around Pond 2, looking desperately for an opening on the shoreline from which to see them. Dozens of Black Skimmers, Caspian and Forster's Terns were hunting and loafing in both ponds, but no more Black Terns.

By now, the sun was starting to set and we were sweating from our race around the ponds. We returned to the front ponds, and watched the White-faced Ibises return for the evening, as they always do, and enjoyed the sight of the Black Skimmers gliding silently over the water as the resident peeps and plovers looked on. This was my last weekend in California, and my last sunset at San Joaquin, at least for a while. And I was both happy and sad to be there.

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