Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Elegant Tern dictates the midnight hour

Elegant Tern (Brian Thompson)
The early arrives
The crowd grew as the news spread
The wait was too much for some
Pagham Harbour
91 pairs of Meditaerran Gulls breed here
Distance pic showing comparison of a Little tern to a Sandwich Tern
File photo of a cracking Elegant Tern

My final day of extended weekend was reserved for a bit of a catch up around the garden and a patch visit. This all went to pot when the Squire called and asked if I fancied going for the Elegant Tern in Sussex. 

The Elegant tern was found by patch watcher Andy Johnson on 7th June whilst trying to find an elusive Storm Petrel around Hayling Island. Reading the finders report on RBA, he had considered the American Royal Tern (which had spent the latter half of the winter and the spring in the Channel Islands) would visit the south coast, even end up on his patch. The Tern was ringed in France which made it much easier to confirm it was an Elegant Tern & not a hybrid. On this day just five birders connected but thankfully on Saturday 10th June, Alan Kitson found the Elegant Tern in the tern colony at Church Norton in Pagham Harbour, West Sussex. 
The ring combination on this Elegant Tern has identified it as 'bird C' from Banc d'Arguin, Gironde, France, an adult male which was first seen on the reserve in 2002. It has returned almost every year since then, breeding with a Sandwich Tern on numerous occasions at both this site and in the Noirmoutier colony. Recent DNA analysis has confirmed that this bird and two other orange-billed terns breeding in France and Spain are all pure Elegant Terns. Source RBA.

Given the Squire could only get a day off he hatched a plan, inspired by Phil Andrews, to leave Alcester at 1am, see the bird early and be home for his afternoon shift.  Not needing any encouragement I duly agreed and met him as planned at 12.45am. The journey took a brief 3 hours which I spent dosing on and off. There were already three cars parked with birders ready to go. We walked down to the harbour with a Tawny Owl calling and set up ready for an easy tick. Under the moonlight there was no sign but as sun started to rise the Squire picked out the Elegant Tern with his new Swaro scope sat on the pier structure to the right of the island preening. With ice cool precision he led myself and another birder (520+ lister) to see the bird before finding the Pacific visitor ourselves. The Tern then took flight undertaking an extended circuit before heading out to sea.

There were plenty of other super species to observe in the four hours until the bird returned. These included a second summer Little Gull, Little Ringed Plover, two Pergerines with chick, large number of Mediterranean Gulls, Sandwich / Common & Little Terns and Little Egrets.

This Elegant Tern became my tenth new species of the year therefore reaching my annual target with some ease. I might be pushing my luck for another ten before the year end. 

Many thanks to Paul for his excellent driving at this mad hour, I certainly couldn't have done it on my own at that time. 

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