Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Bridled Tern: Looks like I was one of the lucky ones…

I managed a weekday, post-work trip to the Farnes last week, with Secret Twitcher, for the Bridled Tern on Inner Farne. We did well getting there with plenty of light left, given it’s a three-hour journey to Seahouses from my house.

The weather worsened as we headed up the A1, and was we were greeted by filthy rain by the time we got to the harbour. Our mood wasn’t helped by the fact the bird hadn’t been seen since around 2pm, but we were here now, so we had to give it a go. It had returned to roost on Inner Farne around 8pm the two previous nights, so there was still time.

I bumped into Chris Bromley, who seems to get everywhere thanks to his granddad and his mum Angie. Successfully twitching Baikal Teal, Dusky Thrush, Roller, Greenish Warbler, Rose-coloured Starling, Pacific Swift, White-throated Needletail and more in the last two months is taking the concept of “mum’s taxi” a bit far! Good on her – she deserves a medal (or at least a certificate from the UK400 Club).

We travelled over on Serenity II from Farne Islands Boat Tours, skippered by Andrew Douglas. Serenity II is a catamaran, so we were there within 20 minutes. Loads of birds on the trip over: Herring Gull, Great Blacked-backed Gull, Black-headed Gull, Kittiwake, Shag, Gannet, Fulmar, Guillemot, the odd Razorbill, and large numbers of Puffin, Eider, Arctic Tern, and Sandwich Tern as we approached Inner Farne. Picking out Common Terns wasn’t easy from the boat as it bounced around the swell in the rain, but I came across a couple while scanning the terns on the island.

There was a crowd of around 60 forlorn-looking birders on the quay as we arrived. None of these had seen the bird, and their boat was due soon… The conditions were poor, with rain on your bins and scope within seconds. We scanned the terns coming into to roost on the rocks – mostly Arctics with some Sarnies. Most of the birds overhead were breeding adults bringing food to their chicks further up the island. A few waders around too: Turnstone, Knot, Oystercatchers and Ringed Plover.

The Glad Tidings arrived to pick up around half the birders who’d had enough after a 5-hour vigil without seeing the Bridled Tern. Some were very reluctant to go… The boat pulled away and we continued our search from the slipway, when a shout came up form one of the wardens – “It’s here, in the roost!”. I rushed over to stand behind him and tried to pick out the bird to no avail. The Glad Tidings was called back (the shouting causing some of the terns to take flight, which worried me because the BT might fly off).

No one could pick out the bird, and the warden’s initial certainty seemed to be waning. He found the bird he was looking at again, but decided it was Sandwich Tern stood behind some seaweed… Birders were just now disembarking from the Glad Tidings, only to be told not to bother. Apologies from the warden and glum faces all round…

The rain was not abating – my boots were overflowing with water, and I was really starting to feel uncomfortable, but I was here and really wanted to find this bird. At around 19:50, just as the Glad Tidings was reaching Seahouses I imagine, another waterproof-clad warden piped up to tell us they were cold and wet and wanted us to leave in the next ten minutes. The call went out to Andrew on the Serenity II in the bay to come in. We had ten minutes to get this bird. I immediately started to grill everything on the rocks to the north quay again.

We were running out of time. The warden was still talking about boats tomorrow morning, when a very dark-winged bird suddenly flew in right in front of me, banking to the right. I looked like a Manx Shearwater with a long tail or something. “Wha..?!” I said to myself, as I realised what I looking at. “It’s there!” shouted a more quick-witted birder stood to my right. “It’s here! It’s here!” I joined in, pointing furiously.

Oh, the joy, the relief, that spread through the group. The Bridled Tern swooped around the bay in sync with a Sandwich Tern, the slate grey/brown wings really sticking out amongst all the white and pale-grey wings. This was a big tern and a real beauty. It had long, pointed wings, with a long tail, a thick black bill, and those cool go-faster eye stripes. A very nice bird.

Eventually it landed on the rocks to the south, and we all go decent views while it was on the deck. I don’t think many photographers got great shots, the rain increasing as the light faded. It flew up again before landing again, but the bird melted into the flock and I couldn’t relocate it – I never managed to get it in my scope.

I grinned the entire trip back to Seahouses, despite being drenched and my jeans plastered to my legs feeling like kelp on a muddy beach. A great twitch.

Inner Farne from Serenity II as we left the island - grinning all the way.

The Bridled Tern has been terrorising birders around the North East ever since. It was seen randomly on Inner Farne again the following day, for brief moments, Since then it’s been seen all over the shop – Cresswell, East Chevington, back and forth, then down to Saltholme and back. It was almost certainly roosting on Coquet Island during this time, where landing is prohibited. As I write, a Bridled Tern was seen passing Flambourgh Head, heading south. Heads up at Spurn. And Gib Point, Holme, Blakeney, Cley, Sheringaham…

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