A Morning In The Flock


I was fortunate to be able to spend a morning with one of the largest breeding colonies of Black Skimmers in New York, on Nickerson Beach in Nassau County. These images reflect intimate moments between a late-born Black Skimmer chick and its parents.

The noise that normally takes up space in my head has no anchor, no distraction, and now solely exists in the environment around me, in the vibrations of the waves, the wavelengths of light in the just-rising sun, the gentle rustle of beachgrass.

I am drawn in as I round the beach trail and find myself yards away from a sleepy, not-quite-awake mixed flock of Black Skimmers and Terns. As the sky grows lighter, juveniles and chicks meekly begin peeping for food, with parents wing-stretching in preparation for the morning feeding.

Bathed in the golden light of the now-just rising sun, a mated male circles the surf as he begins the early-morning hunt for a suitable meal for his chick.

 

A successful hunt.

Returning from the first round of many more trips out to the ocean, this male Black Skimmer flies low over a still-resting flock of juveniles and adults who haven’t risen yet, bringing breakfast to his chick protectively hidden in the marsh grass.

 

Scattering.

Skimmers and terns take to flight, roused from their rest as early morning joggers running the shoreline break the serenity of the flock. The adults alight together, scrambling, then scattering, headed towards the sea as a loose body of energy set in motion.

 

Revealed.

The sudden burst of wings and bodies alighting to the air expose the golden expanse of now-empty beach, where seconds before the flock had been quietly resting, still forms silently silhouetted against the gentle surf.

In this emptiness, the smallest of movements catches my eye, emanating from the tiniest of bodies – a late-season skimmer chick just learning how to navigate the mountains of beach sand, seconds ago partially buried, leaps to its feet, and with the slightest of pauses, looks in my direction before run-waddling to the camouflaged protection of beach grass where it silently awaits its parents return.

 

Standing ground.

The skimmer chick, suddenly confronted by an adult that is not its parent, defiantly rises from its sand bed, and, standing as tall as its newly formed body will allow, alarm calls to its parents who have not yet returned from the morning’s forage.

 

Attack, defend, protect.

Hearing the alarm cries of her little one, the skimmer chick’s mother swoops in from nowhere, dive bombing the menacing adult that is threatening her chick. Beak first, head pointed down and low, she aggressively defends the life of her young. Within seconds, she establishes her prowess, motivating the intruder to leave after a few well-placed jousts with her lower mandible.

 

Safe.

In a split second, it’s over just as quickly as it has begun. The chick reaches up to tightly grasp on to the front plumage of its mother with its bill in a suckling manner, drawing its mother protectively closer.