Common Tern – A Wildlife Photography Challenge

August 20, 2012  •  Leave a Comment


Common Tern feeding fledglingCommon Tern feeding fledgling(c) George Wheelhouse

I first noticed the Common Terns in June 2011. I’d never visited Priory Country Park before, and I was just there to see what sort of wildlife would be living so close to Bedford town centre. Right from my first visit, I was taken by these characterful summer migrants, and I set myself the challenge of photographing them in a new and interesting way. Well summer 2011 came and went as quickly as most British summers, and before I had managed to return more than once, we were into autumn already and I was distracted by the deer rut, and putting the terns on hold for next year.

When Summer (finally) arrived in 2012, I was determined to try the terns again. I had a little success, getting some pleasing results, but nothing really outstanding to begin with.

Common Tern PortraitCommon Tern Portrait(c) George Wheelhouse


But this occasion was a great learning exercise, and the photos were enough to encourage me to keep trying. On my next visit, I was in for a real treat. I found a couple of young fledgling terns sitting very accessibly, and as I watched on, the parents would return with fish every 5-10 minutes. It was a steep learning curve to get some photos from these brief, high-speed exchanges, but as time rolled on, my technique improved along with the light, and I was able to catch some lovely sunset shots.

Common Tern fledglingCommon Tern fledgling(c) George Wheelhouse


In the photo above, the fledgling tern was lifting its foot to scratch its head, and had to stretch those wings out to keep balance.

Below, the bird is calling, as it seeing the parent approaching with a fish…

Common Tern with mouth openCommon Tern with mouth open(c) George Wheelhouse


In the next photo, the parent perches briefly, seemingly weighing up the volume from the two youngsters, deciding which will get fed on this occasion…

Common Tern with fishCommon Tern with fish(c) George Wheelhouse


I love the clear black-cap on the adult common tern. I always think it looks a bit like a pilot in some way. Very official looking! Maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, in the next photo we see the adult feeding the fortunate chosen off-spring…

Common Tern feeding chickCommon Tern feeding chick(c) George Wheelhouse


For me, this was a real break-through in discovering a species local to me, figuring out how to photograph it, and putting in the time to do so effectively. I’m sure it’s a subject I’ll return to again, as I’ve invested the time now. So you can expect more original tern photos from me in the years to come.

If you notice a species in your local area, try to take the time to find out a little more about them, and to watch them at work. I’m sure it’ll be a more rewarding exercise than you might have expected.

You’ll find Terns at many sites across the UK, during spring and summer, as they migrate South to nest here. I took these at Priory Country Park, Bedford, Bedfordshire.

Post by George Wheelhouse, 2012.


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