Diving Eider
10th May 2016
On Your Bike
13th June 2016

Tern, Tern, Tern!

The wildlife here amazes me. There is such a varied variety of birds that come and go throughout the year and one of my favourites is the Sandwich Tern that turns up about the same time as the swallows. They are incredible hunters, flying twenty or so feet above the water and then suddenly diving to catch a fish. These birds were flying close overhead at Amble Harbour this week. The light was good an there was a brisk wind that slowed the birds’ flight right down in one direction and made them impossible to capture in the other.

Amble Harbour


Amble Harbour

Amble Harbour

Amble Harbour

Sandwich Tern
Note the black bill with a yellow tip. Although you cannot see it in these pictures, the Sandwich Tern has a crest. This is a shot I took on the Farne Islands a couple of years ago which shows that.

Sandwich tern

Sandwich tern

It is quite distinguishable from the more delicate-looking Arctic Tern which has bright red bill and longer streamers in flight.

Arctic Tern

Delicate they may look, but Arctic Tern have the longest migration of any bird, travelling between both polar regions.

Arctic Tern
They are aggressively territorial too and will peck you on the head if you walk near a nest. Yes, they can draw blood and visitors to the Farnes wear hats. It may seem counter intuitive to allow visitors to the Farne Islands during the breeding season, but people keep the gulls away and gulls predate the eggs and young of the terns.

Arctic Tern

Actic tern


I haven’t yet managed to get photos of the Roseate Tern. The largest nesting colony in the UK is on Coquet Island. There is a fantastic live webcam feed from the island viewed here. It’s worth a watch. Turn your speakers down, they are noisy blighters. You should spot some puffin too.


  1. Julie McLeod says:

    These are fantastic, Ivor. I feel like I’m learning a lot about Northern Atlantic sea birds through your pictures and wonderful descriptions. My favorite shot of the bunch, I think, is the sandwich tern in the first set which is seen with clouds in the background. It almost looks like he’s soaring above the clouds.

    • Ivor says:

      Thanks Julie. I liked that one too, though I also like the plain blue sky pics, that I might convert to B&W. I really love the shapes these birds make in the sky and the way the light glows through their wings. I hope you are enjoying the holiday weekend over there.

  2. storki says:

    Amazing shots Ivor, especially any in-flight captures, as I still haven’t really managed to get to grips with the panning method so am very envious of these photos. The terns look really magnificent!

    • Ivor says:

      Hi Simone, thanks for that. There has been a lot of learning going on. I have lots of older potentially good shots that are spoilt by a little bit of blurring from the movement of the wings, too shallow a depth of field so not all of the bird was sharp and underexposure. So, here is what I have learnt:

      The secret is to have your camera set so you have a fast enough shutter speed (preferably 1/1000 or faster. The smaller the bird, the faster the shutter speed required,) and not having too shallow a depth of field. So winding the ISO up is usually necessary unless it is a really bright day. Shooting over the sea is great because of the reflected light onto the underside of the bird.

      I wind in +1/3 – +1 EV over exposure because the brightness of the sky will trick your camera into under-exposing.

      Keep both eyes open so you can track the bird and use the dynamic single autofocus feature so the focal points around the one you have selected can be activated. I find this works better than using all the target focussing points.

      Pre-focus on something on the ground that is going to be a similar distance from the bird. That will make it much faster for your camera to lock on.

      Use continuous Autofocus and check the Autofocus Lock settings for your camera. This will help maintain the focus on the subject and not get distracted by the backgrounds.

      Use burst exposure, but check whether your camera can continue to focus at the highest burst speeds, you may have to select a slower burst speed.

      If using a long zoom lens then zoom out a bit. These were with a 70-300mm and I find that it is sharpest around 200mm.

      The high resolution of modern camera allow some artistic cropping to improve the composition. It’s easiest to use the centre focussing point of your camera and leaving a little bit of sky around the bird for an artistic crop to move the bird away from the centre of the frame.

      Check the best position to shoot the birds. Spend a little while looking at flight patterns. Wind direction will make a difference as the birds will fly more slowly into the wind. If it is a brisk breeze this will work to your advantage as it will slow the ground speed down in one direction. Birds also take off into the wind.

      Finally, look for the sun direction and shoot the birds so the sun glints in their eyes. Birds have very dark eyes that can be easily lost in a photo and a bit of catch-light can make a huge amount of difference.

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