Arctic Tern with caught fish on return flight

I recently had the incredible opportunity to observe and photograph a male Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea) during its return flight with a caught fish on the southern coast of Ireland. Witnessing this elegant bird in action was a truly remarkable experience.

We positioned ourselves in an area known for Arctic Tern activity, hoping to capture the moment when the male returns to the female with a freshly caught fish. Arctic Terns are renowned for their remarkable migratory journeys, traveling from their breeding grounds in the Arctic to the Antarctic and back each year – the longest migration of any bird.

It didn’t take long before we spotted a male tern heading back towards the nesting area, a small fish clutched in its beak. The male will circle the female, emitting answering cries to her calls before swooping down to present the fish. In this unique feeding ritual, he does not stop, deftly passing the fish to her while both are in flight.

The images were taken with a Canon EOS R5 and a Canon EF 400mm 1:4 DO IS II USM lens at exposure times of up to 1/1600 sec. Anticipating the male’s approach, I set my shutter speed in between from to 1/500 to 1/1600 sec. to freeze the action. I had figured out that he would come from behind her, as flying into the wind would be much easier for him. And just as predicted, he appeared, soaring gracefully against the wind. I managed to capture the shot, even though the top wing was slightly out of the frame. If I had been using my tripod, I might have done better, but sometimes just setting up the tripod will startle the birds and they fly away. Despite this, I am still thrilled with the image.

After the initial pass, we watched as the female continued to call, waiting for the male’s return. Then, without warning, she flew off. A few minutes later, the male returned with another fish, his calls echoing through the air, but she was gone. Do you think he found her? Did he end up giving the fish to a different female? How in the world can they tell each other apart?

Arctic Terns are fascinating creatures. During this time of year, their breeding plumage includes a striking black cap, red bill, and bright red legs. These medium-sized terns have a distinctive forked tail, which adds to their graceful appearance in flight. Their nests are typically shallow scrapes on the ground in tundra habitats, and both parents play an active role in feeding the chicks, which fledge in about 21-24 days.

The Arctic Tern shares its habitat in Ireland with the Roseate Tern (Sterna dougallii), a very bright, graceful seabird as well, that occasionally displays a slight pale pink tinge on its chest, making it a true avian jewel of the coastal ecosystem.

This Tern is also known for its striking appearance and agile flight. Typically, these birds have a striking white body, a black cap and deeply forked tails, which are rightly described as “swallowtails”.

As with other larids, the Arctic Tern breeding season is a time of busy activity and complex social interactions. They typically nest in colonies and often share spaces with other tern species such as Common Terns (Sterna hirundo), Sandwich Terns (Sterna sandvicensis) and Black-headed Gulls (Larus ridibundus).

The colony on Lady’s Island – located in the middle of a brackish body of water – apparently got its food entirely from the adjacent sea. The dunes, which form the barrier between the brackish water and the sea, are a very good location in general to observe and photograph Terns flying to and from hunting grounds. The flight route is somewhat predictable and manageable. As far as can be seen, it was mainly Roseate Terns and, to a lesser extent, Sandwich Terns that flew out to sea from the colony. Common Terns and Arctic Terns, on the other hand, use the sea as a feeding ground much less often.

In order to meet the growing demand for top images of the rarer species of Palaearctic has specifically made trips to remote places. Additionally every chance is used, if a rare bird is around the homeground. This to do everything to ensure excellent photos of the Birds of the Western Palearctic . The yield of pictures also of rare Western Palaearctic birds is very good. There are other nice images of birds, that you will find behind the tab “Picture Shop“. Just give a notice if you need a picture of a bird which is not online.

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