10 Jun 2017

10 June 17 - 7 (00) Up

On 7 June 17, there was a very brief mid-week sighting of an Elegant Tern on the Eastern side of Hayling Island, Hampshire, but so brief that only a handful of locals managed to connect. Searches the following day proved negative, but then another tantalising sighting on Friday 9 June. Despite being another fleeting sighting, it gave hope that it might get pinned down somewhere in the area over the weekend. I spend some time looking at maps of Thorney Island & the surrounding harbour which forms the border between Hayling Island & West Sussex, with a view to try sorting out the most likely Tern colonies that it might be in & potential viewing points. But before I made any efforts to head off East, there was a Mega alert on the pager to say it had been seen one harbour further East at Pagham harbour. This perhaps explained its fleeting visits across the border to Hampshire. A quick call to alert Peter Moore, who was miserably being dragging around the Brownsea reserve by the family & visiting friends. Normally with Peter & family, it is the reverse, but as this was a potential UK Tick for him & virtually on the doorstep, he felt the right to be miserable. It was clear that trying to arrange a rendezvous with my twitching buddy would not work, especially as there was a three line whip to ensure he was back that evening, so I grabbed the cameras & headed off alone.

The pager was telling people to park at the RSPB centre & walk along the coast. I decided to chance heading for the small Church Norton car park, figuring that some of the quick responding locals would be leaving to avoid the arriving crowds. It worked, one spare place in the car park & 100 metres later, I arrived at the viewpoint for the Tern colony. The only problem it had headed back out to sea an hour ago. A group of locals suggested sticking with the Tern colony viewpoint than the beach, as it would be better views there assuming it had just gone fishing. After a wait of well over an hour, there was a shout at the other end of the group of viewing Birders. There was no possibility of hearing any quick directions, due to the usual many close & loud shouts for directions, which drowned out any chance of the required directions. But after a minute or two, word filtered down that it's on the spit. After that there were directions to the spit, which I hadn't noticed, having been focused on scanning the harbour entrance. Perhaps it had returned over the field of view of my scope or having overflown the shingle bank. Either way, it was academic as I could now see it. A long overdue British Tick finally seen. Even better this was species 700 for the Western Palearctic (based on the AERC taxonomy & boundaries i.e. the BWP boundaries). Not a list I take too seriously, but good it has finally reached 700.
Elegant Tern: A crap SX60 record shot as I arrived to find a flat battery in the 7D, with the spare in the house. Surely if the Sandwich Tern was going to stand on another's back to see its rare cousin, it would actually look at it!
I half toyed with the idea of going for one in 2013 on the Shannon estuary, but family commitments really made that difficult. Had I gone, I probably would have dipped, but would have been perfectly placed for the Wilson's Warbler twitch on Dursey Island. But then I might not have made the effort for the cracking Wilson's Warbler on Lewis in 2015, so perhaps best I didn't go. There have been other UK contenders with one in Devon while I was abroad. Also one in Dorset, when I was working in Bath at the time & I belted for, but abandoned the twitch & headed home when news of its departure reached me. There wasn't the time to get there once it was refound & it wasn't there the next day. Neither was I as I had to be back in Bath that morning. Today none of the previous British contenders have been accepted, but now a colour ringed individual with a known DNA pedigree has turned up in the UK, perhaps the authorities with consider accepting some of the previous UK candidates.

I felt sorry for the Hampshire Birders who spent a lot of time, desperately trying to see it around Hayling Island, knowing it was a few miles further East at Pagham. Less than a couple of weeks later, when it turned up on Brownsea, I spent four hours that evening & another two from first light scanning from my Studland patch at the Poole Harbour mouth for it. During that time, I got a call from Paul Morton who runs the Birds of Poole Harbour charity, that he was watching it on their Brownsea camera. But with no access to Brownsea that evening, all I could hope would be it would fly out of the harbour on one last feeding trip that evening or for an early breakfast flight: it didn't. I managed to join a few of the locals on a visit the following evening: a great evening except the main star wasn't there. There were a few claims during the day after it disappeared off the Brownsea camera in the early morning, but none sounded reliable. I will just have to hope it decides to return to Brownsea next ear & stay for a few days. It has been seen in a number of French colonies over the years, so it isn't impossible.