Observing terns you can understand why they were once called the swallows of the sea; they hover, they soar and they plunge dive. My title is taken from the evocative poem ‘A Pairing of Terns‘ by Mark O’Connor, an Australian environmental poet. He captures beautifully the beauty of terns in flight. Something I’d struggle to describe well in words and until recently would have said the same about photography. They have an incredibly quick flight so not easiest bird to photograph in flight, but I had a stroke of good fortune one day when a Little Tern decide to fish right in front of us. Wonderful to watch, and great fun to try and photograph!
The Algarve is one of the best places to observe the Little Tern (Andorinha-do-mar-anã) in Portugal. They are a summer visitor, and are tiny compared to other sea terns in Europe and the Americas. You can get a sense of their small size (max 25cm in length) in the first two photographs in the gallery below.
Not only are small fish the Little Tern’s diet they are an important part of courtship. Having said that the female didn’t seem that interested in the fish the male was offering when we were lucky enough to observe a courtship in 2014.
Little Terns are not the only terns we have spotted. Initially we thought the other terns were Common Terns. However the legs look black, the edges of the wing on the underside are definitely black and the tail feathers don’t seem to have the lovely long fork shape that the Common Terns have. So I’ve decided it must be the largest of the terns Garajau-grande, what we call the Caspian Tern. Both the Common and the Caspian Tern are migratory birds but as my photographs demonstrate Caspian Terns may spend winters in the Algarve.
I do hope you have a moment to read Mark’s poetry but just in case you are short of time here’s an alternative. Not as evocative but it will probably make you smile!
Said the mother Tern to her baby Tern
“Would you like a brother?”
Said the baby Tern to the mother Tern
“Yes. One good Tern deserves another.”