Saturday, 10 June 2017

Elegant Tern

The Elegant Tern, that had frequented Sandy Point on Hayling Island for a couple of days, was reported to have headed east along the coast on Friday evening. Come Saturday morning and the likely stop off points in West Sussex were all under observation from early morning. But not by me, as unfortunately I had prior commitments until early afternoon.

The bird was eventually found by Alan Kitson late morning at Church Norton on the west side of Pagham Harbour. Should I go? I don't like twitches and I don't (usually) go to them. Worse still, if it was in Pagham Harbour it would probably be on Tern Island and that would be at least 250 meters from the nearest observation point. That's "showing well" range if you are into sea watching but us Toggers need closer views.

I checked with my buddy Dave but he didn't want anything to do with it - too many people. I thought about it and in the end I decided to go. It was on my patch and it's a bird I may never get to see again.

I parked up at the Visitor Centre and walked down the west side of the harbour eventually getting to Church Norton at about three o'clock. As expected the twitch was forty plus, the bird was on Tern Island and it was on the ground with the Sandwich Terns keeping its head down in the long grass.

Tern Island viewed through the 500mm lens - it's somewhere in the grass

I spent about an hour scanning the island with the bins and my small spotter scope. It did occasionally raise its head and you could see the distinctive orange and slightly drooping bill but there were no clear views. I attempted a couple of record shots but then realised that I had left both the  lens extenders at home.

At around a quarter past four it started to get a bit more active, making occasional small flights but then always dropping back into the vegetation. I did eventually get my record shots. They are not that good but at least this is a really distinctive bird and when heavily cropped there can be no doubt on the identification.

I am always suspicious of unusual birds in the wrong places. This one should be on the Pacific coast of the Southern United States and Mexico. Fortunately there are at least three examples of these Elegant Terns in Europe as well as Elegant x Sandwich Tern hybrids. They have been the subject of some detailed study and I am told that this particular male was ringed in France and has been DNA tested and proved to be pure. See this Birdguides article if you want more information.

White ring on the right tarsus and it looks like red on the left tarsus

The colour ring details shown above suggest this is bird B detailed in the Birdguides article above. Well it looks as though I got that wrong. Lee Evans reports that it has a metal ring on right tarsus (FT67249) and white plastic one, with green above yellow on the left tarsus (ringed in 2003). So bird C detailed in the Birdguides article above.

It is also likely that with a french male on the loose along the south coast, we will have our own group of Elegant x Sandwich Tern hybrids to observe next year.

Lets hope it stays a few days. When the crowds go down I may be able to get a better picture and I really would like to get a better image of the colour rings.

Monday 12th June

Went back this morning for another look. The twitch was much reduced from yesterdays numbers but there were still around fifty people when we arrived at about 0830. We watched for about three and a half  hours. A few people managed to get views of it on Tern Island as it stuck its head up out of the long grass but you had to be quick to see it. Towards the end of that time we had a few distant and very brief views as it made short flights over the island.

It was always at a range of about 250 metres so from a photography point of view just a little disappointing. However, I did manage to get a shot showing the ring colours. 

White ring on the right tarsus and green over yellow on the left tarsus

As indicated on Saturdays blog above, this confirms Lee Evans observations and this is bird C as detailed in the Birdguides article. So this bird has DNA that matches that of a pure Elegant Tern. The method of DNA analysis, multilocus barcoding, confirming both parents as Elegant Tern.

Great bird but I just wish I could get a good picture.

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