Saturday, July 9, 2011

Tern of Fate

The family wanted to visit the beach today, and I made the decision to tag along. Beach outings, unless it's a decent shorebird beach, tend to fall flat. But as they say, "you never know", and that phrase could not have been more applicable today. The first sightings on the beach were, unsurprisingly, several flocks of silver gulls and crested terns. These are probably the staple species of the beaches around Port Phillip Bay.


I also spotted this decently close Australasian gannet cruising around the pier, probably the best views I've had of this species despite the poor lighting (and the photograph doesn't help).


While walking back along the beach I encountered an interesting small tern in a dusky immature looking plumage. Being an amateur birder and all I really knew nothing about terns, and tossed the possibility of "white-winged black tern" as besides crested that was really the only small tern I knew occurred in this part of Australia.


I took a few photos and left it there. I soon encountered a second small tern. This was a more adult-looking bird which clearly was not a white-winged black tern but something of a common tern or other Sterna. It only landed briefly and in bad lighting, so my best images were flight shots.


Returning home I had a flick through the terns, and eventually came to the ancient "commic" ballpark. Both common and Arctic tern were in my guide, with common listed as a regular passage bird, and Arctic as a rather rare accidental occurrence. I posted a few pics on Birdforum and immediately had suggestions that both birds were Arctic. I admit to being slightly skeptical at first because what were the chances of not only finding one rare accidental bird but two in the same place at the same time?

I then posted it on Eremaea a day later with a single photo and the tentative Arctic ID. That's when it all exploded. Several people were quite upset that I took so long to get the news in (noting that in the twitching world most bird news comes immediately in the hour of a bird being seen, not several days later). Mike Carter was able to confirm the ID, but was also not particularly pleased in my lack of swiftness in reporting the bird.

The bird was not seen in the initial days after the Eremaea sighting, but when it was found, people started flocking in to catch an eye of it.  Luckily it stuck around, and for several weeks. But the adult bird was a one-day show, and no one else had seen that one since.

An interesting event and I was glad to get at least a few hundred people a substantial rarity in these parts.

The bird generated several arcticles during its stay...I mean articles:

http://blip.tv/wildiaries/arctic-tern-mordialloc-beach-melbourne-4238092
http://www.bay-keeper.com/2010/10/arctic-blow-in-turns-up-at-mordi/
http://bird-o.com/2010/10/08/tern-flies-30000km-to-twitch-birders/

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