A Tern For the Better

I drove down to Rice Lake today.

I hadn’t been there since before COVID but have always loved the little jetty that reaches out into the lake at the end of Hiawatha Line. Many of the photos on the blog were taken there. (You can search the site for “rice lake” and see dozens of images in all seasons.)

image of Rice Lake in bright sun with three scattered puffy clouds. the clouds are creating streaks of shadow against the deep blue sky. there are two buoys, several geese and seagulls in the water below. a line of trees make up the distant horizon. a single seagull soars between the water and clouds.

I was hoping to get a recording of the water lapping on the rocks of the jetty for a project I’m working on.*

As I sat listening and revelling in the sounds of the waves and the birds, I could hear a quiet shuffling coming from beneath one of the big boulders near to me.

I looked over and there was a tern trapped in a crevice with its wings splayed between the rocks. It was still alive and struggling but I could see it was almost spent.

It looked up at me and made eye contact, but didn’t squawk or make any sound. It just stared into my eyes.

I didn’t have gloves or a jacket or anything to protect myself, but I took a chance anyway. I was able to reach down and get hold of the point where each of its wings bend. I gently pulled it up and out with as smooth a motion as I could make.

As soon as it was free of the rocks it turned it’s long neck and extremely long, sharp, orange beak at me and let out a terrible screech.

It must have hurt to have someone pull up on its wings having had them splayed and struggling for who knows how long. (Plus, what wild bird ever wants to be anywhere near a human…)

Not wanting to get stabbed, I let go and it shuffled on the rocks, sliding down between another set of boulders and concrete closer to the water.

I looked down and it was looking back up at me, one wing curled by its side, the other laying flat. But now it was in shallow water and in shade and I could see that there was a large enough opening for it to get itself out of the little rock cave when it wanted to.

So I left it there to rest and went back to my camera and my recorder.

image of Rice Lake in the sun. a line of dappled clouds stretches across a deep blue sky. a lone buoy floats to the right of the image.

After some time a motor boat went by and the wake of the boat came lapping up against the shore.

The tern bobbed out of its cave on the last of the waves.

It gave me one quick look over its shoulder and with some effort, took to the air.

Its first wing beats were weak and I was worried it was going to splash down, but it was determined. A few more flaps and it was holding itself about three feet above the water’s surface. Then with some effort it gained some altitude, circled around the jetty and then landed on a dock some distance away where it looked like there were a couple of other terns.

I’ve been experiencing a fair amount of grief recently. Watching this tern escape a hot, dry, struggling death and fly away to meet its friends did my heart a world of good.

Safe travels, friend tern.


* I’m working on the sound effects for “Wishful Seeing” at 4th Line theatre. Part of the show deals with the short lived railroad bridge that crossed Rice Lake from Harwood to Hiawatha. The jetty I love to sit on was part of the landing for that bridge.

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