For the second Sunday running, we found ourselves enjoying a stroll along the beaches of the Crystal Coast of North Carolina.
This week found us at the opposite end of the island from where we encountered last week's lonely loon, and the shores were much less lonely here at Fort Macon State Park, playing host to a sizable gathering of seabirds.
While we are somewhat familiar with North Carolina's sea and shorebirds, we're certainly not experts, and any trip to the coast is likely to set us thumbing through the "bird books" for a little help. On this particular afternoon, we encountered a mixed flock gathered to face the stiff coastal breeze, and we recognized its members immediately as terns, but we needed a little help to sort them all out. Turns out they were predominately royal terns in full breeding plumage,
but a common tern or two and a pair of sandwich terns were also in attendance.
The crew made sport of holding their ground until an approaching beachcomber got too close for comfort, then taking to the air one-by-one in quite a casual and unhurried fashion.
The royal terns sported striking orange bills with black legs and a ruffled black crest,
while the sandwich terns were a good bit smaller, with yellow-tipped black bills.
After all were airborne, they played follow the leader just above the waves
on their way to establishing a new beachhead a bit farther along the island.
There were a fair number of gulls around as well,
and this laughing gull seemed entirely unmoved by all the commotion,
even as the terns took up a new position a few meters down the beach.
The royal terns are large and impressive birds, second in size only to the Caspian among the terns, easily standing shoulder to shoulder with the medium-sized gulls nearby.
The contrast of bold black and white breeding plumage with bright orange bills
gives these strikingly beautiful creatures an almost comical air,
as their steadfast stares pierce the brisk breeze.
With their peculiarly low-slung and elongated pose,
the clever birds almost manage to convince the photographer that the camera lens has somehow distorted the finished image.
As usual, nature has rewarded the hardy wanderers with a delightful and entirely unexpected sensory feast;
prompting us to ponder whether perhaps we can find an excuse to head this way again next weekend...
After all, as the old saying goes, one good tern deserves another.