Tread Lightly: It’s Mating Season

Mating ritual of least terns on South Beach. “What wild creature is more accessible to our eyes and ears, as close to us and everyone in the world, as universal as a bird?” said Nature Historian David Attenborough. Todd McCormack Photos…View McCormack Fishers Island portfolio here.

With time, patience and a camera, seasonal resident and amateur photographer Todd McCormack headed to South Beach and was rewarded with the courting ritual of least terns.

“From what I could tell, there were two male suitors at first. Elaborate dances took place circling each other, one without and then with the fish offering,” Mr. McCormack said.

Least terns are the smallest of all terns and have a clearly defined mating ritual. Once the circling is complete and an appropriate mate is selected, the male, with a small fish in its beak, stands on the back of the female waving the fish back and forth like watching a long point at Wimbledon.

The signal to copulate is when the female rotates her head toward the male and eats the fish.

“It was all pretty fun to watch,” Mr. McCormack said. “For me, it seems one of the things the Fishers Island Conservancy does is encourage people to be in nature while respecting and observing its mysteries.”

After an absence of many years, a breeding pair of least terns was sighted in Sanctuary of Sands, South Beach, June 2018. These birds breed between April and August, usually remaining within the breeding territory between 3 and 5 months. Please leash dogs and tread carefully, particularly on the western end of South Beach (Sanctuary of Sands), where least tern and piping plover nests are mere scrapes in the sand.

In photos below, Todd McCormack observes the mysteries of nature (clockwise from left): male tern with fish prepares for mating ritual, tern in flight with small fish, piping plover chick not far from its nest (near tern nests), tern “challenging” photographer, beach walker keeps safe distance offering a size contrast between man and little nine-inch bird.

Sent as eBlast 3/23/21