Saturday, July 9, 2011

Re"tern" of the Arctic Tern...and a few more surprises 16-20th October 2010

As news of the Arctic Tern spread around, so did something else that caught my interest; the White-fronted Tern. I had yet to see this bird, and as far as I am aware they are pretty scarce around these parts, so I dedicated another trip to see it. It was an extremely dark and overcast day, with heavy rain threatening. When I arrived the waves offshore were splashing the top of the pier without any rest; it was the highest I had ever seen them here.

Two people were here, who informed me that A. the Arctic was not here and B. two White-fronted where. So I ended up stalking the large Crested Tern flock, in the midst of very heavy hail and wind (no understatement) with frustation at salt water blowing into my lens and not finding the bird. Soon, the two people returned, just as the Arctic passed by. They seemed convinced that I had flushed both the Arctic and White-fronted, and left with unappreciative looks; thus is the life of a photographer.

I met up with one other person here early on and we both walked down the beach, since neither terns were in sight. A few black birds offshore caught our eyes. Shearwater was my first thought; they didn't seem like cormorants to me, but it was too far away to tell.

Returning back, I noticed a few more birders had shown up. I believe I was the only person who wanted to see the White-fronted and not the Arctic! There was a lot of talk about people finding an Arctic only having it turn out to be a Common, and there were some people who had visited every day and not yet seen it.

A person by the name of Nick came by as I found a few stranded birds; shearwaters. Seeing the weather offshore it all tied up, and I further wondered if the birds before actually were shearwaters. Nick spent a while trying to work out whether the stranded birds were Short-tailed or Sooty, eventually coming to a decision on Short-tailed for them all. I turned around and I saw a dark bird flying offshore, chased by a Pacific Gull, and this bird left no doubt. After the Pacific left, it landed in the surf, only to be washed closer by the stormy waves.This bird, clearly quite exhausted from one event or another, came to rest in the waves and ended up washing up on the beach! It used its wings and beak to "walk" its way up the beach and it was a very unique encounter, once in a lifetime. Too bad none of the other birders actually cared.


More people arrived and left, with a certain group having gone to check Rickett's Point, which seemed to be the other locale that the bird hung around. By this time I was still chasing the Shearwater on the beach. It actually pecked me at one point. Perhaps I got a bit too close.

Eventually a few more terns flew in and we all became stuck on the identity of them all. Terns are notorious for being similar and hard to separate...A dude with a field guide pointed out the Arctic, but fell back on the other two. I went on the belief they were white-fronted terns (which, considering the jagged white primary edge visible at rest makes them unmistakable as I found out recently), and ticked it off my life list for the time being.

And a young crested tern with some neat plumage going on.

It was time to go and I saw the shearwater being pecked to death by the Pacific Gulls. Thus seems to be the demise of all washed up and exhausted birds on such stormy days.

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