Tracking with Terns

This article, Tracking with Terns, shares a selection of action photographs of terns in flight in a variety of poses. Terns are quite common birds and happen to be one of my favourite subjects during the spring/summer birding season in Southern Ontario.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 483 mm, efov 966 mm, f/9, 1/2000, +0.3 EV, ISO-640, cropped to 4306 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, subject distance 35.5 metres

Terns exhibit a range of flying behaviours and as such are great practice subjects to develop handheld skills for birds-in-flight photography. It’s always fun to capture a tern in flight with some catch light in its eye.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2000, ISO-640, cropped to 2868 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, subject distance 39 metres

When fishing terns tend to fly in predictable patterns over water looking for fish below. When tracking with terns, watching the bird’s tail feathers is a telltale sign that something may be about to happen. When they spread, the bird is slowing down its flight speed. This may indicate a pending dive.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 280 mm, efov 560 mm, f/8.4, 1/2500, ISO-800, cropped to 4171 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, subject distance 17.5 metres

If Mother Nature is being especially kind, we may have the opportunity to capture some photographs of a tern hovering above its potential meal.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2000, ISO-800, cropped to 3350 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, subject distance 57.9 metres

As the bird commits to its dive it often will turn abruptly with its gaze firmly locked on the target fish.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 483 mm, efov 966 mm, f/8.9, 1/2500, ISO-800, cropped to 2958 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, subject distance 63 metres

To gain speed for its dive terns will pull their wings in tighter to their bodies. If they need to adjust their angle of entry a quick wing extension can occur. To avoid wing injury terns bring their wings back in before hitting the surface of the water.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 529 mm, efov 1058 mm, f/9, 1/2500, +0.3 EV, ISO-800, cropped to 2942 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, subject distance 68 metres

Capturing a tern in its mid-air dive can yield some very interesting images.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 545 mm, efov 1090 mm, f/9, 1/2500, ISO-800, cropped to 3747 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, subject distance 55.5 metres

My favourite perspective when a tern is diving is a profile view, rather than a belly view, as its head and eye are more visible.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2500, +0.3 EV, ISO-1000, cropped to 2802 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, subject distance 68.2 metres

Many photographers like to capture images of terns just as they are about to break the surface of the water, or as they create a splash upon entry.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, +0.3 EV, 1/2500, ISO-2000, cropped to 3798 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, subject distance 67.8 metres

My preferred photographs when I’m tracking with terns is to capture them just as they are exiting the water… hopefully with a fish in their beak.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 529 mm, efov 1058 mm, f/9, +0.3 EV, 1/2500, ISO-1000, cropped to 3492 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, subject distance 68.1 metres

Even unsuccessful fishing dives can yield dramatic photographs as a tern emerges from the water.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 261 mm, efov 522 mm, f/8.4, +0.3 EV, 1/2000, ISO-640, cropped to 3714 pixels on the height, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, subject distance 20.9 metres

I’ve been using the E-M1X for 2 years… and the introduction of Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking has been a fantastic addition. This is the technology that I use for almost all of my bird photography. The only time I do not use Bird Detection AI is when I’m shooting with Pro Capture H at 60 frames-per-second.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 420 mm, efov 840 mm, f/8.8, +0.3 EV, 1/2000, ISO-640, cropped to 3024 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, subject distance 44.6 metres

For birds-in-flight I almost always use Bird Detectiona AI Subject Tracking in combination with Pro Capture L. Terns can be somewhat erratic in flight. I find that using this combination allows me to confidently capture action photographs that were much more difficult in the past.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 391 mm, efov 782 mm, f/8.7, +0.3 EV, 1/2000, ISO-800, cropped to 2611 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, subject distance 27.4 metres

Tracking with terns using Pro Capture L allows me to record photographs in temporary memory, and write them to my memory cards only if I observe specific action behaviour… like the terns in the images above and  immediately below, skim feeding.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, +0.3 EV, 1/2500, ISO-1000, cropped to 3349 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, subject distance 71.9 metres

The combination of Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking and Pro Capture L has been very effective when I’ve been tracking with terns, and waiting for them to do mid-air shakes. These mid-air movements typically occur a few seconds after a tern has taken flight after a dive.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, +0.3 EV, 1/2000, ISO-1000, cropped to 3186 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, subject distance 28.6 metres

During my limited photography sessions in May 2021, I’ve been able to regularly and confidently capture multiple examples of tern mid-air shake behaviour.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2000, ISO-800, cropped to 2658 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, subject distance 67.8 metres

In fact, in May of this year I’ve been able to capture more images of tern mid-air shakes, than I have previously been able to do during the last 7 years in total. Let’s have a look at a few.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 293 mm, efov 586 mm, f/8.5, 1/2000, ISO-400, cropped to 2874 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, subject distance 38.7 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 293 mm, efov 586 mm, f/8.5, 1/2000, ISO-400, cropped to 2874 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, subject distance 39.8 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 293 mm, efov 586 mm, f/8.5, 1/2000, ISO-400, cropped to 2906 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, subject distance 38.9 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 293 mm, efov 586 mm, f/8.5, 1/2000, ISO-400, cropped to 3044 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, subject distance 37.7 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2500, ISO-1000, cropped to 2446 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, subject distance 101 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2500, ISO-1000, cropped to 2401 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, subject distance 88.2 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, +0.3 EV, 1/2500, ISO-1250, cropped to 3373 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, subject distance 51.3 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 434 mm, efov 868 mm, f/8.9, +0.3 EV, 1/2500, ISO-1000, cropped to 3522 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, subject distance 35.6 metres

Tracking with terns is a great way to practice handheld technique for birds-in-flight.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 293 mm, efov 586 mm, f/9, +0.3 EV, 1/2000, ISO-800, cropped to 2715 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, subject distance 79.2 metres

Not only that, tracking with terns can lead to many interesting photographs of these acrobatic birds.

Technical Note

Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. Crops are noted. This is the 1,030th article published on this website since its original inception.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, +0.3 EV, 1/2000, ISO-800, cropped to 3666 pixels on the width, Bird Detection AI, Pro Capture L, subject distance 39.5 metres

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2 thoughts on “Tracking with Terns”

  1. Wonderful photos Tom. I continue to be amazed at your skill in making bird captures.

    Joel

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