Tern Retrieving a Fish in Mid-Air

During a recent visit to the Hendrie Valley Sanctuary I was photographing terns in flight and fishing. While capturing a typical AF-C run I was lucky to be able to photograph a tern retrieving a fish in mid-air. The photographs in this short article are aggressive crops so I apologize in advance for the image quality. 

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Frame 1, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-280

When a tern fishes, it usually swallows its catch while in flight. Depending on how the tern is grasping the fish with its beak this may involve the tern flicking the fish up in mid-air slightly so it can grab it head first, allowing the bird to swallow it.

Frame 2, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-280

I’ve been lucky capturing this in-flight behaviour a couple of times in the past. Hoping to capture this action again, I was shooting in AF-C with subject tracking at 20 frames-per-second. In the following frames you’ll see the tern mishandle its catch, drop it in mid-air, then retrieve it while diving after it. The 14 frames shown in this article were captured in 7/10 of a second – so this action happens quickly!

Frame 3, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-280
Frame 4, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-280
Frame 5, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-280
Frame 6, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-280

In Frame 6 you can see the tern has dropped its fish in mid-air.

Frame 7, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-280
Frame 8, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-280

In Frame 8 the tern starts its mid-air dive to retrieve the fish.

Frame 9, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-280
Frame 10, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-280
Frame 11, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-280
Frame 12, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-280

In Frame 12 the tern is in a full dive and moving rapidly.

Frame 13, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-280

Given the speed of the tern’s mid-air dive I had trouble keeping it properly framed during my AF-C run. I put the image above in this article so readers would have an unbroken view of the action sequence.

Frame 14, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-280

In Frame 14 the tern has retrieved its fish.

There’s no doubt that the Nikon 1 system has some shortcomings due to its small 1″ CX sensor in terms of dynamic range, colour depth and low light performance. On the other hand, being able to capture images like those in Frames 8 through 12 by being able to shoot at 20 frames-per-second in AF-C is one of the reasons why I love shooting with Nikon 1.

Technical Note:
All photographs were captured hand-held using Nikon 1 gear as per the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process of DxO PhotoLab, CS6, and the Nik Collection.

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6 thoughts on “Tern Retrieving a Fish in Mid-Air”

  1. hi thomas

    nice shots

    why apologizing for croping, sometimes as in this case is the best option.

    blame the bird for not repeating its actions closer 😅

    1. LOL…you’re right Nestor…that darned bird was inconsiderate! All kidding aside I always like to get in as close as I can to the action and avoid any crops at all if possible.
      Tom

      1. yes “we” always try to frame in order not to crop.

        is a defect “we” adquired with film cameras.

        and I said “we” because not to crop is normal for people like us with many years taking pictures and learning.

        in your case as a pro, mine as an amateur who enjoys knowledge and the pleasure to be behind a camera.

        I am 65 years old, don’t take as an offence my “we”.

        anyway besides to consider your work near excellent, what wonders me most was that you was able to master a camera without a viewfinder, either electronic or optic.

        I tried several times without success.
        without a viewfinder I can document a moment, but I can’t frame, and thats make a big difference.

        anyway, as ever a pleasure to read and why not admire most of your work.

        sorry, for my english, just trying to express a feeling and not an evaluation

        1. Hi Nestor,

          No offense taken with your ‘we’ comment…especially since I am older than you!

          I initially passed on the Nikon 1 J5 because the camera did not have a viewfinder and I believed, at that time, that I would not be able to adjust to it since I had never owned a camera without a viewfinder before.

          The better quality sensor in the J5 eventually was too much for me to ignore so I bought a J5 to try it out. Much to my surprise I found the transition was fairly easy to make. It took about a week or two of regular shooting before I was totally comfortable. I did purposely leave my V2s at home so I wouldn’t be tempted to revert back to using a viewfinder. It was like ‘burning a bridge behind me’. 🙂

          Except when photographing birds-in-flight or sometimes shooting butterflies with extension tubes, I seldom even think about using a viewfinder now. For much of my photography such as landscapes and flowers I now actually prefer using the rear screen. It is strange how we can become accustomed to things…even being an ‘old dog’ like me.

          Tom

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