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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Royal Terns

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Birds Winner

Nature's Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards

ROYAL TERNS

Fort DeSoto Park, Pinellas, Florida, USA

by Robert J. Amoruso

Orlando, Florida, USA

“North Beach is frequently referred to as the number one beach in Florida, but it is also one of the best places in the state to photograph many species of birds.

“The royal terns in this image are posed in a characteristic pre-mating display. Typically, the male will fly to the beach with a fish crosswise in his bill as an offering to the female, who may or may not take it. If she accepts the fish, the display pictured here may occur, where the male extends his neck and bends his closed wings forward, resembling a skirt. The male will then circle the female and she will reciprocate by extending her neck and bending her closed wings forward. Mating may then occur.

“In the case of this couple, the male initiated the display without offering a fish, and in the end, the female refused to mate.

“The challenge for me was separating this couple from the colony of terns and gulls on the beach. I moved left and right, up and down, looking for the best angle. Finally I laid on my belly and crawled for approximately 40 feet in the sand before fine-tuning the composition. By crawling to the subjects I was able to approach without disturbing their natural behavior.

“My goal was to impart emotion in the image and make viewers feel they are truly watching a mirage of nature. I achieved this by using the out-of-focus sand to make the birds appear to be floating in the clouds. Capturing the height of the display completed the image.”

Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II; 500mm lens with 1.4x tele-converter; 1/1250 sec at f/10; digital capture at ISO 400; Gitzo 1325 tripod with Wimberley Gimbal head.

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