The Elegant Tern of the Seasons (and no, “auto-correct” did not goof the title)


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Orion twinkled above me as I slid my kayak into the water this morning. I clicked off my headlamp and paddled into the slowly brightening day, my paddlerocketing me my gentle paddle strokes easing me into the coming adventure. (I don’t know that I’ve ever been able to paddle so fast that I rocketed along, especially when I am still waking up… and it’s more poetic the second way.) Ahem. Easing me into the coming adventure. I did not know what the day held for me, but that is part of the beauty of waking up.

I headed south and west along Tomales Bay, crossing to the far shor-

*Imagine lots of flowery, elegant talk around here about the quiet of the water, the glory of the sunrise, seeing grebes silhouetted against the rising sun, etc. Just fill in some details- some of them about two really cool Kingfishers that I will be posting about in a day or two- and I’ll zoom ahead to the part about the terns

-and I heard a sudden, single large splashing noise ahead. Terns were diving ahead of me, plummeting full body into the calm morning waters. Their fast active wings weaving them agilely through the air, turning them around a single feather at the tips of their wings before a sudden plummeting dive where they would briefly disappear completely before reemerging.

The Elegant Tern emerges from the watery depths of not very deep

Wheeling and circling above me, they cried to one another discussing the fish or the weather or perhaps how bloody cold the water was this morning. A continuos dance, of circling and diving, occasionally scoring a fish, but more often ascending with an empty beak.

The mornings light lit their feathers in a lightful way

Actually the Elegant Terns, for that is who the birds were are actually pretty elegant, except for their voices. I’ve never heard a tern that had a pleasant song, but I may just be listening to them at the wrong times, or without a terns ear.

A marvelous bird to watch and challenging to photograph at times, as they can be quick to change direction without much warning

I truly gave my autofocus a good workout this morning as I tried to capture these highly maneuverable birds. I feel happy to have captured the images that I did. I can tell that I have not been making it out enough to shoot hi-action images however, as I had more trouble following and focusing on the birds than I have in the past… inspiration to do better and more. My own images push me.

The twisting turn on a wingtip that is a prelude to a dive

Enjoy these images of Elegant Terns, that only pass through in their own season as they migrate to warmer climes, or as they return to their breeding grounds

And here is a very non-elegant bird that flew through right after the terns, a first-winter Mew Gull. Notice how unsleek and and inelegant it is, yet fun in its own way?

About Galen Leeds Photography

Nature and wildlife photographer, exploring the world on his feet and from his kayak. Among other genres, he is one of the leading kayak photographers in Northern California. To learn more about him, visit him on his website-
This entry was posted in birds, kayak photography, Photo Essay, terns, wildlife photography and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to The Elegant Tern of the Seasons (and no, “auto-correct” did not goof the title)

  1. Chris Knowles says:

    Fantastic as always!

  2. Mattie Ivy says:

    A playful, and elegantly (if you’ll excuse the reference) composed post – a pleasure to read. The vertical ‘prelude to a dive’ is the stand-out photo here, for me.

  3. These really make me feel like I was there. Love the vertical one, too.

  4. Absolutely Fabulous! LOVE the photos!

  5. Perfect subject, perfect day, great photographer!
    Thanks for sharing.

  6. Eastern Babe says:

    What a fun post! All the way in San Francisco, similar things are happening with the seasons and the Terns. (I always appreciate a good play on words!) I really enjoyed the captures you got of the Tern’s wings and the close-up of their markings. Are you noticing that the Elegant Terns are in their winter plumage yet?

    • Thanks Eastern Babe. The Elegants are definitely moving into their winter plumages, not much of their fancy duds are left. It was your post that helped inspire my post (as well as the terns themselves), so I thank you for that. Keep capturing the beauty of the East, and I shall take care of the West (or at least a small part of it) and we can share it with the world!

  7. ladyfi says:

    These terns shots are magical! As is your header photo.

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