Monday, March 29, 2010

Sandwich Terns and what John James Audubon thought about them...

Birding Longboat Key, Florida
These three Sandwich Terns with their mustard-tipped bills quickly became favorites of mine during our stay in Florida. Because they were never far apart from each other and huddled together like they were old friends, I started thinking of them as The Three Tenors, and I would not have been surprised if they had broken out in song.

The early morning sunlight was still soft across the beach, but it was growing higher in the sky by the minute.

...face into the wind like a good little Sandwich Tern!

...even though the mustard-tipped bill has nothing to do with their name, it really does fit perfectly with Sandwich Tern!

Wanting to learn a little bit more about these cute little terns, I did a bit of googling, and came across an entry written by none other than John James Audubon himself! I had stumbled across the 1840 "First Octavo Edition" of John James Audubon's seven-volume set of "Birds of America," which is online and available to all on Audubon's site. Here is the intro to Audubon's entry on Sandwich Terns:
"On the 26th of May, 1832, while sailing along the Florida Keys in Mr. THRUSTON's barge, accompanied by his worthy pilot and my assistant, I observed a large flock of Terns, which, from their size and other circumstances, I would have pronounced to be Marsh Terns, had not the difference in their manner of flight convinced me that they were of a species hitherto unknown to me. The pleasure which one feels on such an occasion cannot easily be described, and all that it is necessary for me to say on the subject at present is, that I begged to be rowed to them as quickly as possible. A nod and a wink from the pilot satisfied me that no time should be lost, and in a few minutes all the guns on board were in requisition. The birds fell around us; but as those that had not been injured remained hovering over their dead and dying companions, we continued to shoot until we procured a very considerable number. On examining the first individual picked up from the water, I perceived from the yellow point of its bill that it was different from any that I had previously seen, and accordingly shouted "A prize! a prize! a new bird to the American Fauna!" And so it was, good reader, for no person before had found the Sandwich Tern on any part of our coast. A large basket was filled with them, and we pursued our course."
What a difference 178 years makes! To read the rest of this chapter, click here. To access the book's online table of contents, click here.

...related to this subject, I just finished reading a book called "No Woman Tenderfoot; Florence Merriam Bailey, Pioneer Naturalist," by Harriet Kofalk. Florence Merriam Bailey was a proponent of studying live birds in their natural environment instead of studying birds that had been shot. She also organized the Smith College Audubon Society and led students to boycott the manufacturing of feathered hats, the millinery style that was killing more than five million birds a year. Through her writing and flyers, she helped turn the tide and no doubt saved many of our beautiful herons and egrets from extinction. It's an interesting book written in 1989. (My cousin, Mary Ann, found this book in a used book store and sent it to me. Thanks, Mary Ann!)

...taken later in the day on a different beach and in much brighter sunlight.
I love that face, and who can resist their mustard-tipped bills?

30 comments:

Jenny said...

Hi Kelly, that light was just perfect that morning! Beautiful photos and yes, they do look like old friends spending time chilling on the beach together.

Dave Lewis said...

Fantastic photos Kelly!...now I'm hungry..where is that mustard...

Roy said...

Those are some cool-looking Terns! Love the beak.

That was always the one thing I didn't like about Audubon and his contemporaries, that they shot their subjects to study them. After all, how much can a dead bird tell you? Three cheers for Ms Bailey!

Susan said...

oh Kelly, this is a wonderful post! I love the reference to Audubon,and the to first efforts to save many species from women's heads!Your photos are pretty nice too!

Steve Borichevsky said...

These are wonderful Tern shots. I love shooting terns. This must have been fun.

Montanagirl said...

Beautiful as always! Great shots of a beautiful bird.

Pam said...

Stunning photos of the sweet faced Terns, Kelly. This was a very informative post and the book sounds like a great read.

Wanda said...

These photos made me smile, Kelly! They make a beautiful photo, posed together like that.

Busy Bee Suz said...

They are so beautiful...wondeful captures you have here.
I also love mustard. :0
The three tenors? Love it.

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Love your Three Tenors , Kelly... I have never seen a Sandwich Tern before---but they are so neat. Love those mustard bills.

Interesting thoughts from Audubon. The book about Bailey looks like a great read.

Hugs,
Betsy

holdingmoments said...

Beautiful little birds with the 'mustard' tips to the bills.

Thank goodness we only shoot birds with a camera these days.

Chris said...

HI Kelly,
What an interesting message... Thank you very much for the links and the book citation... it was pretty interesting.
For the pictures, they are really great and you captured them in a very beautiful light condition. I love them all and I would like to capture these terns as I've never seen them! They look elegant and beautiful!

Elaine said...

Your Three Tenors are gorgeous.

Strange to think that Audubon provided such a lovely presentation of birds, but his method of studying them was to kill them first. I am so glad that people's thinking has changed.

Felicia said...

Lovely post! If haven't done so already, you'd enjoy reading "Audubon's Elephant"--it's about Audubon's travels, bird studies, and efforts to fund publication of his books and illustrations. What a great stroke of luck it was that you came across that profile of that early female naturalist as well; she needs and deserves more attention!

Laure Ferlita said...

Love the "Tenors!" Gorgeous light in those photos.

RuthieJ said...

What stunning photos you took of these beautiful terns! Thanks for this post Kelly.

Tina said...

Hello Kelly,
Wow! What nice photos you captured..always fun to get that perfect morning light..it just really adds to the quality of the picture!!
You look like you had a really good visit to Fl. I've been looking over your other posts..those are some amazing eagle pictures..very nice!

Hilke Breder said...

Magnificent photos, Kelly, enjoyed reading your post. What a barbarous sacrifice for fashion! I remember reading a news article years ago about a naturalist rediscovering a bower bird, which was only known through a kapok-stuffed skin. He filmed it but unfortunately his canoe overturned ruining the film; so he could never document that he had actually seen it.

Phil said...

Brilliant post Kelly. Thank you for finding that ultimately sad quote. Thank goodness we have moved on from killing birds. Wonderful photos.

Roy said...

Brilliant images of a very interesting bird Kelly.

Keith Hargreaves said...

Brilliant photos nice looking birds

Carol Mattingly said...

Simply beautiful photos. Can't wait to get to the seashore. Carol

Cindy said...

Kelly,
Love these little terns and your pictures of them together are great.

Abraham said...

Another set of birds I have never seen before. The beaks in mustard color are different.

The Early Birder said...

Super series of shots Kelly. Very distinctive bill but so is the 'punky' haircut!! I'll be off to the coast in April to find some of these. FAB.

Paul C said...

Wonderful closeups with an interesting background provided. I live very close to Point Pelee National Park, southern Ontario where we enjoy a real funnel for birds this time of year.

JKoenig said...

Beautiful pictures, Kelly. How interesting how they sat close together just alike...

Kelly said...

...thanks, everyone for the kind comments! I fell in love with all the terns I saw down there...Royal, Forsters, and Sandwich, but the Sandwich Terns were just so darn cute. I just loved those little bills! (I also fell in love with the morning sunlight and how well it photographed. It's hard for me being a nightowl to admit getting up early has LOTS of benefits...)

E said...

Beautiful, Kelly, congrats, pics and stories, superb. Hugs.

Charles said...

Excellent blog and photos. I just took my first pictures of Terns at the Venice Florida Fishing Pier in January 2011. All the best.