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.

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