Tern Skim Fishing

I was out yesterday morning doing some fieldwork for my upcoming eBook on bird photography and happened to catch a tern skim fishing.

While terns usually fish from above, diving into the water to catch fish, they will also sometimes fly low to the water and skim the surface with their beaks to catch fish. This short article shows this tern fishing behaviour.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-1250

The above frame shows the tern starting its skim fishing motion.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-1250

The tern’s beak is now just under the surface of the water.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-1250

If you photograph this tern behaviour using a fast AF-C rate (I was shooting at 10 frames per second) you can usually capture a dramatic frame like the one above.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-1100

Fortunately terns usually fish like this on calm surfaces which helps create some nice reflections of the action.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-1250

If you look closely in the above frame you’ll see that the tern’s tongue is visible.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-1100

If the tern continues to fly along the surface of the water do not stop your AF-C run. This usually indicates that the tern was not successful and may do another skim fishing action.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-1250

The photograph above is 6 frames later in the run. You can see that the tern is a bit closer to the water and getting ready to skim fish again with one foot touching the water.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-1100

The tern has dipped its beak to the water for a second skim fishing attempt.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-1400

Another interesting frame as the tern creates a wake on the surface of the water.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-1400

Another dramatic frame with an interesting body posture and a good splash in the water, coupled with a reflection on the smooth surface.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-1250

A double splash combined with an angled head position.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-1250

After the second skim fishing attempt the tern began the rise up over the surface of the water. Being unsuccessful it continued to fish using its ‘dive from above’ technique.

While using camera gear that is appropriate for the type of bird photography you are doing is important, observing subject birds and learning about their behaviour is key to capturing action shots.

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

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