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Thread: Harsh Realities of Nature

  1. #1

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    Harsh Realities of Nature

    In the Anchorage area, Potter's Marsh is probably the best known local wildlife reserve. It contains a large freshwater marsh of about 550 acres that is used as a nesting area by several species of waterfowl, shore birds, one nesting pair of bald eagles, and, most notably, hundreds of mew gulls and arctic terns. Anyone interested in birds knows the story of the arctic tern which migrates from the antarctic to the arctic every year to nest and raise their young. That is a journey of over 20,000 miles(32,000km) round trip ("return" if you prefer).

    This is the fourth spring I've lived in Anchorage but the first time I've spent a lot of time at Potter's photographing the terns and other species. I've been monitoring their progress as a natural consequence of figuring how to optimize photo ops. The terns nest mainly on low, dry spots in the marsh. The surrounding estuary provides ready access to fishing in close proximity to the nests. Once the chicks hatch there is essentially a non-stop feeding frenzy by the birds to gather enough food for the growing chicks which fledge in just a few weeks and start the long journey south with the adults.

    I've been visiting the marsh every other day or so on my way to work in the mornings. Thursday was the first time I spotted a chick in a nest near one of the pullouts where I stop. Then Friday morning, disaster struck. Early Friday morning we had a mild earthquake, not unusual for this area. But the quake apparently ruptured an ice damn that was retaining the water in a lake in the mountains that is the headwaters for the creek that feeds the marsh. A few hours later the creek was a raging torrent, washing out the bridge on a secondary road, running several families from their homes, and causing the waters in Potter's Marsh to raise by a foot or so.

    Unfortunately, even this modest rise in the water level was devastating to the nesting birds. Thousands of yet unhatched eggs were flooded in the nests and newly hatched chicks either drowned or were driven from the protection of the nest out into the open where they can be spotted by the herring gulls or various raptors or have their little bodies overheated by the harsh sun.

    I went down this morning and one desperate tern couple had successfully abandoned their nest with a single surviving chick but unwisely chose the area around a parking area to re-establish their home. They were going about the business of feeding the little one and aggressively attempting to defend it from people, vehicles, gulls, etc. One of the aspects of nature photography that is both thrilling and upsetting is witnessing Darwinian theory played out. Here are a few images of the unfortunate family.

    Tern attacking an unsuspecting photographer who stepped out of his vehicle.

    Harsh Realities of Nature

    The chick came out from under parent's wing to get a morsel from the second parent returning from forraging.

    Harsh Realities of Nature

    Mom staring me down.

    Harsh Realities of Nature

    One of the few species of bird whose chicks aren't extraordinarily ugly.

    Harsh Realities of Nature

    Harsh Realities of Nature

    Sorry little guy. Not yet...

    Harsh Realities of Nature

  2. #2
    FlyingSquirrel's Avatar
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    Re: Harsh Realities of Nature

    Superb photo-essay, Dan! I thoroughly enjoyed the writing and images. It is sometimes tough to hear about and/or see things like that. That chick is probably one of the most precious things I've ever seen.

  3. #3

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    Re: Harsh Realities of Nature

    Good set, Dan. That last one is definitely a keeper.

  4. #4

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    Re: Harsh Realities of Nature

    That is just excellent Dan. Interesting and informative.

  5. #5

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    Re: Harsh Realities of Nature

    Dan, both emotive and well done.


    Sergio

  6. #6

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    Re: Harsh Realities of Nature

    Nice series dan, and a great story to go along with it. The young one's are kind of cute, in an ugly sort of way

  7. #7
    Daisy Mae's Avatar
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    Re: Harsh Realities of Nature

    Superb Dan..heartwrenching but superb!

  8. #8
    terrib's Avatar
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    Re: Harsh Realities of Nature

    What a sad story but what beautiful pictures! That little chick is precious and you did a great job capturing it's cuteness. I especially like the last two.

  9. #9

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    Re: Harsh Realities of Nature

    Glad you folks enjoyed the post. I was back in the same location last night until about 10:30 or so. The little chick was still alive and being fed and protected by the parents. It was out of the parking lot and down on a rock at the edge of the water. There was another photographer there who had been camped out on it for hours, more to keep other people from doing it harm that anything else. I chatted with him a bit. He said other terns appeared to attack the chick once or twice and the parents defended it very aggressively. Very odd. Where it is located I think people are the biggest threat. While I was there some children tried to run and pick it up. There parents acted incensed when the photo guy stopped them. They were swatting at the terns when they started to defend the chick from the kids. There was general chaos for a few minutes.

    The reason I was down there so late is that I was set up on a nest in the marsh but withing reasonable camera shot that has a couple of chicks in it. I was trying to get shots of feeding taking place. There was some greenery in the way but I think I ended up with a couple of reasonable shots. The terns are feeding the chicks dragon fly larvae and sometimes adult dragon flies (which the chicks can't swallow whole). A birder that I've seen down there a couple of times claims that the terns time hatching their eggs with the hatch of the dragon flies. It is amazing that the terns were feeding on fish that they can barely swallow but have now switched to the small larvae that the chicks can get down. Intelligence? Learned behavior or instinct? Really amazing whatever the case.

    I won't have a chance to process additional photos for a few days as I will be on the road on business the rest of the week then out on the water over the weekend.

  10. #10
    Daisy Mae's Avatar
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    Re: Harsh Realities of Nature

    Thanks for that update Dan.

    I doubt anyone following this post hasn't wondered ( and worried) about them today.

  11. #11
    kaneohebud's Avatar
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    Re: Harsh Realities of Nature

    Hi Dan:
    A moving piece, especially in light of your May winning photo of the terns. They are such beautiful birds and their life is so hard. Thanks for taking the time to write their story. Hope we get a chance to get together in August.

  12. #12

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    Re: Harsh Realities of Nature

    Nature...so beautiful but yet deadly. We worked in Yellowstone National Park for 7 months in 2011. OMG what beauty of seeing a bison born, a newborn Elk, a wolf cub...
    But as someone put it, the sound of a baby Elk crying, while being carried off by a Grizzly Bear, is a sound you will never forget, and never want to hear again.
    It is natural though....
    Nancy

  13. #13

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    Re: Harsh Realities of Nature

    Quote Originally Posted by flyingSquirrel View Post
    I thoroughly enjoyed the writing and images.
    Thoroughly! Fortunately, I don't have to decide which I like better because that would be impossible.

  14. #14
    FlyingSquirrel's Avatar
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    Re: Harsh Realities of Nature

    another photographer....camped out on it for hours, more to keep other people from doing it harm that anything else.
    children tried to run and pick it up.....photo guy stopped them.
    An exemplary nature photographer and steward of Earth. Touching story; makes me proud to want to be a nature photographer.

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