Monday, June 10, 2024

Unbridled Joy...

Right, where was I...last post I mentioned something about a Bridled Tern....

Part I. Arriving on 1st June, the resident seabird wardens on the island were amazed at its presence and soon put the word out. This is a bird of global equatorial distribution, so it would be more suited to the Caribbean, Indian Ocean or North coast of Australia than an outcrop of rock in the North Sea.

As Coquet Island is not a place where visitors can land, there were a couple of options available for those wanting to see the bird. 

From the mainland, most birders set up opposite the island at Hauxley Dunes small car park where, using a telescope, the bird’s favoured location was 1.41 kms ( 0.8 miles) over water or if looking from Boulmer 8.41 kms! In late afternoon light this was not too bad but in the morning into the sun it was more difficult. Adding to the problem was that it would head out to sea on fishing sorties for a few hours at a time leaving observers frustrated.

The alternative was to climb aboard one of the Puffin Cruise boats out of Amble that, on a high tide, could get in much closer to the bird.

My first attempt was on the Monday early evening. It was a fine day and I pulled into the car park to find around 8 people watching from the top of the dune. I gathered my scope and stool and found a good position to scan the island. The bird had been frequenting the tall stone steps and the solar panels area so at least it was possible get directions on to it, but on arrival the bird was away fishing. No one seemed to be really concentrating either so I hunkered down, screwed my eye into the eyepiece and waited. The ‘white’ Terns could be seen ok, so it was just a case of looking for a brown backed one to appear. Due to the number of birds flying around this was not as easy as it may seem and every odd angled flying Puffin caused me to pause and look again. There are an awful lot of Puffins!

Fifty minutes passed without a view, then a glimpse of something ‘different’ in the flying melee caused me to stop and take a breath. No, not a Puffin this time, there it was, the Bridled Tern in over the island and circling around the solar panels. Its long brown wings stood out and even the bright white sides to the tail could be seen when it was at the right angle. I gave a constant commentary until I was sure all others waiting could see it. When it landed it was no more than a speck, so better to see it flying around. It was on show for around 20 minutes and eventually went out of view in some grass. Success!

Impression of view from Mainland.

Part II. Although I had at least seen the bird, it all felt a bit unsatisfactory due to the distance involved. Luckily others felt the same, so a couple of friends had organised a full birders charter of a Puffin Cruise boat at 3pm on Tuesday 4th June.

We arrived at Amble quay nice and early for our boat to hear the news that the previous two boat trips had not seen the tern. Those were standard, hour long Puffin Cruises. This time we had a longer time out there to just wait and see what happens. The bird usually appeared back on the island late afternoon or early evening presumably to roost?

Around 40+ intrepid sailors left the harbour onto a lightly lumpy sea and headed the short way over the sound. Luck was on our side. Even as we made our first approach, the call went up, ‘There it is!’. Sure enough the Bridled Tern was circling around with other terns in its usual spot. It made several attempts before finally landing on the bare bank side where we all managed great views for around half an hour. Now all of its features could be seen clearly and a lot of photos were taken.

Above Bridled Tern and tern twitchers.

Roseate Tern

Eventually it got up again, flew around a bit then headed SE out to sea again, not returning while we were there. We hung on another half an hour or more and enjoyed close Roseate Terns, Puffins, Grey Seals and even 3 Black tailed Godwits as the flew towards the mainland.

Northumberland has a good track record of attracting rare terns, and this bird is the county’s 6th Bridled Tern since the first in 1988. For me, it is my 3rd having seen birds at Hauxley in 1988 and 1989, making it a long 35 years since my last sighting. At the time of writing, the bird is still around and may spend the summer here. So, if you’ve not seen one, get on an afternoon Puffin Cruise and Good Luck!

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