Saturday 27 July 2013

CASPIAN TERN in Staffordshire

The north end of Rudyard Lake (viewed from the west).
Photo by Adam Archer

The largest species of tern in the World has given me a right old run around in Britain over the years. Before finally connecting with one in Northamptonshire a decade ago this species had been the bane of my twitching life. I had dipped several and some individual birds on more than one occasion. To make matters even more frustrating the two sightings I have had in Britain had a combined viewing time of around one minute.

So with news of a CASPIAN TERN being found in my neighbouring County of Staffordshire yesterday I was eager to pull out all the stops to see it as soon as possible, despite suffering with a recently acquired hernia. Luckily Nadia was on hand to drive me up north this morning and following an early morning tip off by fellow Warwickshire bear Steve Seal we were on our way.

CASPIAN TERN (first summer) - Rudyard Lake, Staffordshire.
Photo by Adam Archer

Due to a satellite navigational glitch we ended up on the opposite site of Rudyard Lake to the crowd of birders on the eastern shore. This involved a pretty lengthy stroll in the early morning sunshine towards the northern area of the reservoir but in the end this turned out to be a stroke of luck. Upon arrival the orange-billed brute was showing very well indeed as we viewed it from the shelter of the lakeside trees. The bird spent the majority of its time loafing amongst the small number of gulls on the shell strewn mud but it would occasional fly off and exercise its wings over the water for a while before returning. 

Other birds on site included at least 5 Oystercatcher, a flock of 63 Lapwing, 2 Little Ringed Plover, 3 Common Sandpiper and a first summer Common Gull. A Common Redstart was also heard calling. After studying the tern for a long while and attempting a few record shots with our iPhones we became more interested in watching the Carrion Crows attempting to break open some of the freshwater oysters, which the low water levels had exposed. It was great to see the look of concentration on the faces of the youngsters as they watched their parents carefully prise open the shells.

CASPIAN TERN  (first summer) - Rudyard Lake, Staffordshire.
Photo by Steve Seal

The bird continued to entertain a steady stream of birders throughout the day at the northern end of the reservoir before flying off high to the north at 4.45pm. It was then relocated at its favoured roosting sight just a few miles north at Acre Nook Sand Quarry in Cheshire about a hour later. This is the site where it was originally located in the gull roost on the 24 July 2013.

CASPIAN TERN  (first summer) - Rudyard Lake, Staffordshire.
Photo by Steve Seal

The CASPIAN TERN in Staffordshire

This is just the ninth sighting of this species in the County. The CASPIAN TERN has a cosmopolitan, highly scattered breeding distribution. It occurs on every continent with the exception of South America and Antarctica. Almost all of the north European population is centred in the coastal habitats of the Baltic Sea. This population is of conservation concern based in a drop of 2,200 breeding pairs in 1971 to 1,500 in 1999-2001. Other favoured breeding areas are in Finland, Sweden and Estonia in the north and sporadically in various Countries in south east Europe and Turkey. During the winter months they spend their time feeding around coastal West Africa south to the Gulf of Guinea but can also be found at large bodies of freshwater too.

All previous records of the species in Staffordshire are as follows:

2013 - Rudyard Lake - 26th to 28th July.
1999 - Westport Lake - 3rd June only.
1993 - Drayton Bassett Pits - 10th May only (brief visit from Dosthill Lake, Warwickshire).
1992 - Belvide Reservoir - 21st June only.
1988 - Westport Lake - 8th June only.
1984 - Rocester (recorded as Alton by British Birds) - 26th April only.
1973 - Cannock Chase Reservoir (now Chasewater) on 14th October only.
1972 - Blithfield Reservoir - 16th July only.
1968 - Belvide Reservoir - 20th July only.

Taking the West Midlands region as a whole there have also been four records from Warwickshire (1975, 1976, 1988 and 1993 as above), one from Worcestershire (1971) and another one from the West Midlands (1979).

Sunday 21 July 2013

BONAPARTE'S GULL in Lancashire

Gulls loafing off Red Nab, Heysham, Lancashire.
Photo by Adam Archer

It has been a while since my only previous sighting of this diminutive North American gull in Britain. In fact it was during a double tick day in Devon and Cornwall a staggering eleven years ago. We initially connected with a stunning ROSS'S GULL on the Plym Estuary that day then caught the Devonport to Torpoint ferry over the River Tamar where we enjoyed a winter plumaged adult BONAPARTE'S GULL at Millbrook.

Therefore with a handsome summer plumaged bird up on the Lancashire coast I took the decision to pay it a visit while I could. Late on Saturday night I quickly assembled a small team of interested birders from the West Midlands for a trip north this morning.

adult BONAPARTE'S GULL (centre) at Heysham, Lancashire.
Photo by Adam Archer

At around 10.30am, I along with Dave Hutton and Jules Allen positioned ourselves in the dark, shadow of Heysham nuclear power station and began scanning through the hundreds of Black-headed Gulls. Within seconds we had located the rarity loafing around off the area known as Red Nab just south of the southern outfall of the facility. Even from a distance the bird could be picked out by its smaller size, its jet black hood and its slightly darker wings. Other birds offshore included a small number of Herring Gulls, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Common Gulls and a nice trio of Mediterranean Gulls.

After about forty minutes of studying the bird it suddenly took flight and headed directly towards the outfall. With the chance of some closer views of the bird we scrambled north where the bird performed superbly just a few yards off the seawall showing its distinctive wing pattern. Luckily local Lancastrians Mike Watson and Gary Jenkins were on hand to secure some pretty impressive photographs whilst our official ASBO photographer Dave Hutton fiddled about with his latest 'fat lens'.
BONAPARTE'S GULL (adult summer)
Photo by Gary Jenkins

After a thirty minute feeding frenzy jostling for scraps amongst the Black-headed Gulls the BONAPARTE'S GULL then flew off from the outfall and made its way out to sea where it floated around in the distance digesting its meal. After an unsuccessful attempt for Red-veined Darters with Mike and Gary at a site nearby we all then made our way to a famous Scottish restaurant for a slap-up Sunday lunch. It was another successful trip during this epic year for British rarities. It was also great to meet up with another few birders who enjoyed the craic as much as we do. Birding up north is way more fun!

BONAPARTE'S GULL (adult summer)
Photos (above & below) by Mike Watson

Tuesday 2 July 2013

MEGA ALERT: The BRIDLED TERN in Northumberland

After the heartbreak of missing out on the unfortunate Hebridean WHITE-THROATED NEEDLETAIL last week I needed a whopping great birding positive to ease the pain. As we are now entering July though, I had envisaged it might take a month or two for something special to appear and lift my shattered spirits. Then on the eve of my birthday, news was received of a BRIDLED TERN up in Northumberland. With the tragic events of last week fresh in my mind I had to move quickly before something terrible happened to this rare pelagic stray from the tropics. A number of horrific scenarios were conceived by my over active imagination. Perhaps it would spontaneously combust after flying into the flare stack of a North Sea oil rig? Perhaps it would choke to death on a pipefish? Or perhaps it would be caught and hanged as a French spy by some dopey northerner further down the east coast?

After waiting for positive news we eventually arrived at Seahouses just before 11.00am and quickly boarded one of the late Billy Shiel's vessels called Glad Tidings II. I hoped the name of the boat would prove to be a fitting summary of the day's events. After a relatively smooth crossing and some nice views of Gannet, Guillemot and Puffin we eventually arrived at Inner Farne where the distinctive musky aroma and cacophony of sound typical of a seabird colony awaited us. 

The rarity's favoured resting area near the quay on Inner Farne.
Photo by Adam Archer

Unfortunately as we arrived on site there was no sign of the rarity despite it being seen on and off from 5.00am onwards throughout the morning. Paul Hackett who had arrived earlier must have noticed our concerned expressions and reassured us that it would return soon. As the minutes passed by, the original finder of the bird and seabird warden, Will Scott also made a point of telling us there was nothing to worry about. He seemed confident and he was dead right to be, within a few minutes the bird appeared out of nowhere perched up on the rocks in the distance. What a feeling and what a tremendous bird!     

The BRIDLED TERN blended in well amongst the rocks.
Photo by Dave Gray

Some decent scope views were obtained initially before it was spooked and flew around for a while, reminding me of a Long-tailed Skua as it raced past. It eventually strayed closer and closer as it was harassed by a few Arctic Terns before it landed on the rocks once more. As it preened and settled down for a while the news was sheepishly broken to us by a nervous boatman that we had to get back onboard the vessel while the wardens had a spot of lunch and enjoyed some well deserved rest. This obviously did not go down too well as most of us were keen to spend as much time with the bird as we could. Fearing a mutiny he eventually agreed to loaf just offshore for a hour and return us back to the island as soon as he was able.

BRIDLED TERN making its escape.
Photo by Dave Gray

As we pulled away from the quay the BRIDLED TERN did the inevitable. It flew around for a short while, passed just in front of the boat and landed just a few feet away from where we had been standing a few moments before. We still had crippling views of the bird as we bobbed around in the channel however the photographers on board were understandably gutted. If they had still been on the quayside they would have secured some of the best shots to have ever been taken of this species in British waters. Luckily Will Scott was still on hand to grab the excellent shot below before he headed off for a bite to eat.

BRIDLED TERN - Inner Farne, Northumberland
Photo by Will Scott
BRIDLED TERN - Inner Farne, Northumberland
Photo by Paul Rowe

Whilst anchored out in St Cuthbert's Cove we relaxed with a nice brew and celebrated our good fortune. Dave Gray also managed to pick up the BRIDLED TERN once again as it flew around and landed briefly on the shingle of the Wideopens area of Inner Farne. Upon our return to the quay for a second time, our patience was soon rewarded with further stunning views of the bird. It would go missing for a while but would reliably return to its favoured area after a quick wander offshore. Finally with the weather closing in and the hunger pains starting to stir we decided to leave on the 2.45pm boat back to Seahouses. We really could not have wished for a more successful twitch.

Other species to enjoy included a family of Ringed Plover, a winter plumaged Knot and a scattering of Turnstone as well as the hundreds of Kittiwakes, Arctic Terns, Guillemots and Puffins. There were also smaller numbers of Sandwich Tern and Common Tern in the colony but unfortunately we failed to locate the single Roseate Tern that was present earlier in the day.

Waiting patiently in St Cuthbert's Cove.
Photo by Adam Archer

As with the recent PACIFIC SWIFT success in Suffolk and many birding trips before, what better way to mark the auspicious occasion of a new British bird then with a plate of tasty fish and chips. The Neptune Fish Restaurant in Seahouses comes highly recommended indeed. After filling our faces it was time to head south, after all I still had a birthday as well as a new species to celebrate.

Many thanks to Will Scot for locating the bird and providing us with regular updates on his Twitter page. Our appreciation also goes out to the many other wardens on Inner Farne and The National Trust for allowing us access onto the island before the usual opening time.

Inner Farne viewed from St Cuthbert's Cove.
Photo by Adam Archer

BRIDLED TERN in Great Britain

This stunning tern occurs throughout the tropical regions of the World. The most likely source of the British records are of the Atlantic race melanoptera which breeds in the Caribbean and in the Banc d'Arguin area of Mauritania, Africa. Please note though the race fuligulus of the Red Sea and Indian Ocean has also been found dead in Britain. From the photographs above though I would say this particular Inner Farne individual is another melanoptera based upon the obvious white collar, the pale mantle and the large amount of white in the tail. All British records are as follows:

2010 - Northumberland - East Chevington - 21st June.
2006 - Essex - Dovercourt, Harwich - 25th August.
2003 - Angus - Arbroath - adult 19th July.
1994 - Argyll - Tiree - from 30th June to 9th July.
1994 - Cumbria - Founey Island - from 3rd to 5th June (presumed same as Yorkshire).
1994 - Yorkshire - Fairburn Ings - 3rd June.
1993 - Highland - The Perches, Eigg - 21st July.
1993 - Northamptonshire - Earls Barton Pits - 29th May.
1993 - Sussex - Rye - 16th to 17th May.
1992 - Yorkshire - Flamborough Head - 18th August (presumed same as Northumberland).
1992 - Northumberland - Coquet Island - 14th August.
1991 - Isles of Scilly - Tresco & Crow Sound - 6th July to 13th August.
1991 - Kent - Broadness - 2nd June (presumed same as Essex).
1991 - Essex - West Thurrock & Hanningfield Reservoir - 2nd June.
1990 - Yorkshire - Scarborough - 18th October.
1989 - Northumberland - Hauxley & Seaton Sluice - 16th July (presumed returning 1988 bird).
1988 - Cleveland - Hartlepool - 9th August (presumed same as Northumberland).
1988 - Aberdeenshire - Sands of Forvie - 2nd August (presumed same as Northumberland).
1988 - Northumberland - Coquet Island - on & off from 11th July to 28th August.
1988 - Anglesey - Cemlyn Bay - from 1st to 23rd July.
1984 - Dorset - Lodmoor - 11th July.
1984 - Leicestershire - Rutland Water - from 8th to 9th June.
1982 - Cornwall - St Ives - probable first winter 14th October.
1979 - Orkney - Stromness - first summer from 6th to 7th August.
1977 - Devon - Lundy - fresh wing found 22nd April.
1958 - Somerset - near Weston-super-Mare - found dead 17th October.
1954 - Glamorgan - Three Cliffs Bay - found dead 11th September.
1931 - Kent - Dungeness - male found dead 19th November.