Saturday, 21 September 2013

One good Tern...

Well it's been a while but as the summer months have mainly been about lepidoptera and trying to the get the garden in order I've not really been that inclined to post much.

Now that Autumn is upon us and there are some birds about perhaps it's time I started this blogging malarkey again. I was asked to cover a couple of sectors for the Poole Harbour WeBS count last Sunday afternoon and being an amiable sort of chap I acquiesced (one good turn...). The weather forecast was proper hardcore with force lots of wind and lashings of rain so I had to dig out the waterproof gear and wellies. My two sectors were along the Arne Peninsula (part of the Royal Society for Proliferation of Bitterns reserve) and I was quite keen to explore some new areas for me which otherwise are out of bounds. I met up in the Arne car park with one of the RSPB staff who kindly drove me down toward the furthest point of the peninsula in a golf cart like vehicle. This saved me a fair walk which I was very grateful for and before embarking on my counts I quickly scanned across to Shipstal Point as it's often where the Spoonbill feed/roost - sure enough there were 10 in the channel. There were loads of Curlew, Little Egret and other stuff feeding on the mud but as it wasn't my department I moved swiftly on. I made my way out towards Patchins Point taking care not to flush anything as this would impact other birders trying to count their sectors as well causing undue disturbance to the feeding birds. I successfully managed this and reached the starting point of my first sector and could see a few gulls and terns feeding out in the harbour. In amongst them were two juv Black Tern and a rather fine adult Arctic Tern which in fact were feeding above a raft of Cormorant until they were flushed by a group of canoeists.

There wasn't really much else to report as I made my way back west along the shore but the habitat looks good for wintering Snow Bunts, Shorelark, and the like which are very scarce in the Harbour but probably under-recorded. The wind was now starting to pick up and the first few drops of rain were falling. A Wheatear flushed from just in front of me and sought shelter amongst the low vegetation out of the wind. The next sector along held a few more birds but by now it was hard going walking into the ever increasing westerly wind and driving rain. The Bins and 'scope were becoming almost unusable but I managed to log a few bits 'n' bobs with the best being 6 Common Sand, 6 Turnstone (I tried to persuade them that Swineham Pt would be a good place for them to feed but they weren't having it), 8 Ringed Plover, 4 Dunlin and 2 Snipe.

I then headed back across the heath to the car park looking forward to the prospect of a nice cup of tea.

I had popped into Swineham briefly on the way to Arne as there had been a Red-rumped Swallow the evening before at nearby Middlebere. There were probably about 400 Sand Martin with 250 House Martin and 100 Swallow carpeting the pit but with limited time and the strong wind it would have been pure luck if the RRS had given itself up to me. Anyway, I thought I would have another look on the way home in the hope that maybe a Kittiwake or something had been blown in. The weather was still absolutely atrocious but as I scanned the pit from the west end I noticed a small tern right up the other end. It looked quite pale so without delay I swiftly made my way up to get better views. As soon as I got my scope on it I could see that it was indeed a marsh Tern but didn't have any black shoulder patches - surely a juv White-winged Black Tern? I then noticed fellow Swineham patcher Peter Moore on the other side of the pit and could see that he had photographed the bird and was reviewing his piccies on the back of the screen. Swineham is awful for phone reception (Vodafone) so being unable to contact each other on the phone I hastily made my way over to where he was positioned. Looking at the bird on the back of his camera there was definitely white in the rump but was the saddle a bit too pale? One of the photos had the bird twisting in mid-flight and this seemed to show a black patch on the body around the front of the wing on it's left hand side. As the bird had only been making it's close passes to us showing it's right hand side we wondered if maybe something was amiss. Conscious that time was getting on we eventually managed to get a signal to call a few locals and I put news out as a probable WWB Tern via Twitter so at least people could check it out for themselves. Peter had to get home so I stayed with the bird and moved round to another part of the pit. This was useful as the bird then flew past at close range revealing itself to have no black shoulder patch on the left hand side either.
But what about the seemingly less contrasty than expected saddle? Well it transpires that as juvs moult into 1w plumage a lot of the dark mantle feathering turns grey - ooh it's all just one massive learning curve isn't it!

Steve Smith and Kevin Lane turned up just before dusk but unfortunately the bird must have gone to roost as we couldn't locate it. I was told that this was only the second record for Poole Harbour and would be a PH tick for everyone! It did show the next morning up until around 9 so at least some of the guys managed to connect.

The following photos are reproduced with kind permission from Peter Moore:

I'll try and post a few highlights from the summer shortly - probably!