Some lakes just look “birdy” and Little Cowhorn Lake is one of those lakes. Located in southeastern Itasca County (Minnesota) it is a rather large lake with no houses around its perimeter. Emergent rushes form large “islands.” Soon after I launched my canoe I saw the telltale silhouette of a tern. Black Terns are colonial nesters. They build flimsy floating nests made of pieces of bulrush and cattail parts. The idea is that the nests are protected from predators by open water and yet the nests float so as not to be swamped by waves but rather “roll” with them.
I knew the attack was coming, but I needed to quantify the number of terns and nests and eggs. The first wave of kamikaze terns came surprisingly close to my Tilley-clad head but after a while they just circled over me and scolded me loudly. I knew from experience that they would eventually settle back down and hover gently back onto their nests, and this was going to be my picture. I positioned the canoe so I would be shooting into the sun. If a tern hovered above the target nest it would be nicely backlit by orange early-morning light. And I eventually had three terns land. The last series I shot with the white balance set to “shade” to warm the light to a dreamy orange-yellow. Several were just as I had hoped…wings extended, feathers backlit….and captured with a camera that only does 3 frames per second. 1/4000 of a second stopped the wings in mid flap. At home, I tweeked the color balance in Aperture.
Canon XTi, Canon 400mm f5.6, f5.6 at 1/4000, ISO 400