Saturday, May 05, 2012

1 May 2012: Long-tailed Skuas

I often remind myself during the long, hot, birdless hours of a typical pelagic trip that it only takes one bird to turn a dull day into a great one. On our Labour Day pelagic, this third year Long-tailed Skua was that bird!
The hunting strategy is mesmerizing to watch. The skua will 'breeze into town' all innocent and casual, mingling among the terns as if it has nothing on its mind other than enjoying the breeze.

Cruising back and forth in a relaxed manner, it's actually casing the joint, checking out the locals, seeing who's 'loaded'.

Suddenly, it drops a shoulder and launches into top gear. One unfortunate tern is about to suffer skua-induced seasickness!
Like a guided missile, the skua 'locks on' to one Bridled Tern.
From now one, it's as though they are connected by an invisible wire. No matter how the tern twists and turns, the skua is always there, relentless.

There's only one way for the tern to cut the wire, and it knows it's about to lose its lunch!
The skua's eye never leaves the tern for an instant.
Finally, the tern delivers, and you can almost hear the 'twang' as the tension between skua and tern is released.
The skua uses its webbed feet as brakes.
 Now that the prey is no longer mobile, the final descent is leisurely.
The prize - fish marinaded in tern saliva - mmmmm!
Most of these tern ambushes take place in the far distance, but we got lucky with this one!
This is a more usual scenario. Reminds me of a certain painting in Michael Warren's epic 1984 book, Shorelines.

1 comment:

John Holmes said...

"One bird to make the day a great one..." on pelagics

- that's for sure ! I still haven't seen a skua yet this year...