Monday, August 23, 2010

"Welcome To The Sand Lance Buffet!" Common Terns, Double-crested Cormorants, Harbor Seal

Common Tern with a mouthful of Sand Lances
Common Terns, adults and juveniles feasting on Sand Lances. "Mom! Got any tartar sauce for these?" 
Double-crested Cormorants patrolling for Sand Lances  
Everybody wanted in on that action! This Harbor Seal showed up while I was photographing the birds.

    The same day that I photographed the gulls hawking the ants, there was another kind of feeding frenzy going on in Totman Cove: Welcome to the Sand Lance 'all-you-can-eat' Buffet! Sand Lances are a slim, elongated, schooling fish. Although they are eel-like in their shape and movements, they aren't a true eel. There are eighteen varieties of them found across the globe. They range from eight to eighteen inches long. The ones in these photographs were the short ones. Nonetheless, it would gross me out to be swimming with them. I have a phobia about the bottoms of bodies of water when I can't see what's down there. Just the idea that these creatures could be around my legs creeps me out severely. Give me a clear, swimming pool or at least an actual snake or spider that I can see.
     Sand Lances are an important food for forty-five species of predacious fishes, some invertebrates, twelve species of marine mammals and forty species of birds. I watched seals, ospreys, cormorants, gulls, and terns feeding on them. Even an eagle showed up and lurked in the trees. It didn't try for any of the slithery little fishes, but did seem very interested in all the action. I suppose for an eagle it would be like eating a fistful of French fries, hardly worth the bother. The ospreys that were diving for them were juveniles. The fish, barely visible in the big birds' talons, were probably crushed to mush by the time they got to a perch to consume them. The eagle gave chase to an osprey; gulls and terns chased the eagle and the osprey; terns and gulls dove on the cormorants when they surfaced with the Sand Lances and God only knows what was going on below the surface. See? That's why I don't like swimming in there! Horrible horrors! A person could get mauled in the melee.
     Sand Lances aren't eaten here, but I can imagine them lightly breaded, fried and eaten whole - bones and all like Smelts. Yummy! Now you're talkin'! A generous squeeze of lemon and some home-made tartar sauce, a side of Cajun curly fries and cole slaw............get the nets! I'm ready for 'em. See how easy I am? If I can relate a thing to anything with mayonnaise, I'm okay.
If you would like more scientific information about Sand Lances, click here:
If you want recipes, see me on The Food Channel!
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  1. Great Pix, Love the Corm popping the sandie like a french fry!
    great photography!!!


  2. Thanks, Larry! I try (and try, and try and try again!)

  3. The first photo of the turn is marvelous - and your previous post gave me new info - did not know that gulls hawk insects - seems like a lot of work for a small morsel, but I've read recently that there is very high protein content in insects, and I know that kites & hawks often make their living entirely with insects, so why not gulls. Thanks

  4. Stunning first photo on your webpage today. Wow. Nice work!


    On Mon, Aug 23, 2010 at 12:01

  5. Very interesting. It can be a bit worrisome to have a lot of species dependent on a food source. A huge colony of Arctic Terns disappeared from the Orkney Islands after one fish (Sand Eels I think) was depleted.

  6. Great pictures!
    joseph S

  7. Thank you Harold and Joseph. I have read that Sand Lances are also called Sand eels elsewhere. I thought the same thing that to have so many species dependent upon one fish is scary. I think Atlantic puffins really fancy them, too. I've seen lots of photos of puffins with bills full of them.

  8. Robin, this is some incredible photography!! ~karen

  9. You got some great photos of them eating the fish! I'm not sure that even fried those eels appeal to me....I'll take some Lake Erie perch instead, thank you....or catfish Fiddlers.

  10. Mary, What's a 'catfish fiddler?' In the east, perch are VERY boney and not a fish I would trouble with. Good flavor, but.........

  11. I know I'm probably 'way late to be commenting on this one, but your pictures of birds feeding on those funny fish-eels are fabulous.
    I made the mistake last year of buying a camera for portability rather than shutter speed (duh) and everything is gone by the time my camera clicks.
    Guess it's back to the ol' camera store for me, then give one of the little kids the camera whose price I have (mercifully) forgotten.
    I understand your fear of waters whose bottoms you can't distinguish. That's when the imagination runs rampant, alright. But I did manage to get over my fear when snorkeling for the first time a few years ago. I could see into the water instead of into the depths of my mind and that helped. As soon as I stopped swallowing seawater and learned to spit it back up the tube, I had a wonderful time.
    Alberta, Canada

  12. Thanks, Kay. I have a good vision of you learing to snorkel and sucking in water. The first reason I have a digital SLR is because I couldn't put up with shutter delay and missing shots. The other thing that seems to matter is having a very fast processing card. I use Extreme cards (now THAT figures!). And, by the way, it's never too late to comment. Thanks again.