Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Bird of the Day: California Least Tern or There is a Season....

I missed August in Margaritaville last summer. Instead of hobnobbing with the terns, I was hanging out with the goldfinches in my brother's backyard in Iowa. There really isn't much bird activity in the marina right now compared to wintertime when the migratory birds arrive. Oh, there are regular visits from great blue herons, but they're solitary types. They don't bring their friends. The same goes for the occasional egret or black-crowned night heron. Every now and then, there are a couple of cormorants, or a grebe, or a few coots, but they're more numerous in winter, too. It was pretty dull around here until the terns began fishing. The California least tern is not a large bird, so the fishing acrobatics are nothing like the pelican dives of last February, but it's pleasant enough to watch a pretty white bird snap up a silver fish even if it's not exactly breathtaking.

The tern scene at the ocean is more dramatic. I first noticed the terns on the beach a couple of mornings ago. I heard them before I saw them. The chorus of peeping came from the sand as well as overhead. The flying terns had little fish dangling from their beaks, and instead of gobbling them up, they were delivering them to the birds on the sand which must have hatched somewhere nearby--though I can't quite imagine where since the beach is not exactly untrammeled. These birds on the sand appeared to be adolescent birds. Somewhat downy, but half-grown and conveniently a speckled sandy brown instead of the brilliant black and white of their parents, they sat peeping enthusiastically for fish, tucked into the footprints left by walkers and joggers. They could fly, though not expertly--which explains why their parents have to feed them. Terns--millenial generation of the bird world. Not like the snowy plover chicks who hop over to the seaweed and start devouring sand fleas almost immediately. But then I guess eating a sand flea is a bit less risky than diving for a fish. So perhaps those of us with adult children doing some human version of peeping for fish would do well to keep in mind that learning to fish is probably better than eating fleas even if it takes longer to learn.

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