Recently I was in Lido Key, Florida – a popular tourist destination in the Sarasota area when I had some down time in my travels around my home state to visit South Lido Beach. As soon as I got out of my car, I noticed a tern on the sand near where I parked that looked very odd (which means unfamiliar to me). I usually have all my field guides with me whenever I travel, but in this case I was shooting a couple of beach weddings that weekend, and was out of my usual nature photography mode: hence – no field guides. I got as close as the tern would allow me, and took a couple of shots.
As soon as I was satisfied I had a clear and well-lit image to identify later, another one started flying by me over the surf. Then another. Then another.
After an all-night drive back to Tallahassee after shooting landscape shots well into the night, I went directly to my home office bookshelf. What was so odd about this tern? It wasn’t large or small – just like any other tern. No idea. I decided to upload all the images from that evening to my computer, and as the images began to appear on the screen I noticed what I didn’t notice on the beach: the yellow tip on the bill.
After about two minutes looking this up, the only tern that has this feature is the sandwich tern (Sterna sandvicensis). Very cool! A new find for me! Common in California and the upper Atlantic Coast, these terns on occasion will migrate across the mainland to the Gulf of Mexico in winter, which explains why I couldn’t identify it right away by memory. The good thing about photographing Florida wildlife, you never know what might stop by!Rich Leighton January 3, 2011