There is a season, tern, tern, tern…

Yesterday I had a brief sprint through some of the birds I spotted around Alnmouth. Today, I’m going to focus on a couple of species in particular.

Terns have always been a favourite of mine, beautiful, elegant and graceful, yet fierce when defending a territory. A quick glance around the internet will show plenty of ‘when terns attack’ videos.

Shortly after arriving in Alnmouth and scrutinising the OS map, I’d discovered the existence of Coquet Island. This little rock was apparently home to 90% or more of the UK breeding population of Roseate Terns, a bird I’d not seen before. So a trip seemed an obvious choice.

Coquet Island One mile off the coast of Amble, Northumberland

Coquet Island
One mile off the coast of Amble, Northumberland

Coquet Island As seen from Alnmouth

Coquet Island
As seen from Alnmouth

Sadly, the company that ran the trips from Amble let us down (we rang, we booked, they confirmed, we travelled specially, they cancelled when there was nobody else to go). But that didn’t stop us seeing plenty of other terns.

Feeding frenzy Alnmouth, May 2015

Feeding frenzy
Alnmouth, May 2015

The mass of birds above was spotted from an observation point at the end of Northumberland Street that looks to the South. My assumption as that it would just be gulls, mainly black-headed gulls. But when we walked down and stood next to the river, it became obvious there were plenty of terns in there too.

A tern, but what species?

A tern, but what species?

Initially I was excited at the chance these were Roseate Terns, especially when I noted the dark bill. But closer examination showed a yellowish tip to the bill, dark legs, and a bigger bird all-round. Sandwich Terns.

Sandwich Tern Note the yellow tip of the bill

Sandwich Tern
Note the yellow tip of the bill

Roseates have red legs, and often a little red to the bill.

Actually this was a great illustration of why it can be useful to take plenty of photos, as studying them helped hone the IDs of the different species.

Dive! Dive! Dive! Common Tern, Alnmouth, May 2015

Dive! Dive! Dive!
Common Tern, Alnmouth, May 2015

There were also numerous Common Terns, identified by the red bill and legs. That’s a good summary for the Arctic Tern too, but Arctic terns have a shorter pure red bill and stockier build.

Sandwich Tern Common Tern Posing for comparative purposes

Sandwich Tern
Common Tern
Posing for comparative purposes

Of course, focusing on the glamour of the terns neglects the gulls that were having equal success with the silvery sprats in the river. Which is harsh, as black-headed gulls are under-rated birds in summer or winter plumage.

Black-headed Gull Alnmouth, May 2015

Black-headed Gull
Alnmouth, May 2015

They fished notably lower than the terns, flopping into the water rather than diving dart-like.

The terns here are towards the top of the picture. Most of the birds lower down are Black-headed Gulls

The terns here are towards the top of the picture. Most of the birds lower down are Black-headed Gulls

We watched the flock moving back and forth following a shoal for about 30 minutes, even having time to shoot some shaky video (you may want to turn the volume down as the wind was really rattling past).

Eiders tomorrow. For now though, as unsurprisingly I had a lot of pictures, here a few more. Because one good tern deserves another…

Tern Around (Bright Eyes)

Tern Around (Bright Eyes)

Tern to Stone

Tern to Stone

If I Could Tern Back the Hands of Time

If I Could Tern Back the Hands of Time

Love Will Tern You Around

Love Will Tern You Around

Tern the Beat Around (Actually, puns aside, note the bit of crest you can see at the back of the head)

Tern the Beat Around
(Actually, puns aside, note the bit of crest you can see at the back of the head)

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One Response to There is a season, tern, tern, tern…

I welcome thoughts, comments and questions, so please feel free to share anything at all. Thanks, David

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