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Tara (mating series) - white-fronted tern - Sterna striata | by Steve Attwood
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Tara (mating series) - white-fronted tern - Sterna striata

This series of photos are of a pari of tara mating in the middle of a very busy and noisy colony of terns on the sandbanks at Ashley Estuary, Canterbury, New Zealand.

To get these shots I had to belly crawl across the sandbanks keeping as flat as possible, slithering through sand liberally coated with fresh tern guano. Fortunately, being fresh, the guano smelt like really good quality dried shrimp and was not at all offensive.


The most common tern living along New Zealand coasts, and on the Chatham and Auckland islands. They have a narrow white band between their black cap and bill. Their body and sharply forked tail are white, and their wings are pale grey. They are 42 centimetres long and weigh about 160 grams. A flock of white-fronted terns diving into the sea can be a sign that kahawai fish are close by. The birds feed on small fish, such as pilchards and smelt, which the kahawai chase to the surface. White-fronted terns bred only in New Zealand until 1979, when they also began breeding on islands in Bass Strait, between Tasmania and Australia. In autumn, large numbers of young terns and some adults fly to Australia, returning in spring for the breeding season. They nest from October to January in large colonies on beaches, shingle banks or rock stacks. They lay one or two spotted, pale green-blue to light brown eggs. The young fly at 29–35 days. They can live to 26 years. The New Zealand population was reckoned at 15,000 to 20,000 pairs in 1997. The population seems to be declining rapidly, though accurate population estimates are difficult because colonies move and change. Threats include stoats, hedgehogs, rats, dogs and beach vehicles.

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Taken on September 20, 2013