The Forster’s Terns are the most familiar terns here locally, but they’re difficult to photograph. They move as fast and change course as suddenly as swallows. They hesitate and hover for just a split second before crash diving into the water to snatch a little meal, and a moment later they’re airborne again. Also like swallows, they drink water on the fly by dipping their beak while skimming the surface. Like many birds they can drink salt water; they have an organ to extract the salt and discharge it from a nostril. These birds did me the great favor of circling in a fairly tight pattern so that I had a better than zero chance of catching them in flight in focus. I clicked the shutter nearly 100 times to get six usable images.
This bird did nothing to deserve having the name of Johann Reinhold Forster hung around its neck. Forster wasn’t, so far as we know now, a rabid racist and advocate of slavery like Bachman. He was, however, one of the early breed of colonialist naturalists who traveled the world, stole plants and animals everywhere, and gave them names alien to their native habitats. It’s time we freed birds from dead people’s names and stopped using birds as feathered statues. Happily I’m not alone on this issue. The president of the American Ornithological Society recently told BirdWatching magazine last month “that the organization’s leadership supports the recent push to change the names of birds that are named for people.”
Forster’s Tern parents share the nest-building, egg-sitting and chick-rearing work more or less equally. The male usually takes the day shift for brooding, and the female sits at night. The birds are North American natives, and the California Central Valley is among their breeding sites.