19 Jun 2018

19 Jun 18 - Deja Vu (Almost)

I was sorting out some photos for another Odyssey Blog Post, when I noticed that the Elegant Tern has reappeared in the Sandwich Tern & Mediterranean Gull colony at Pagham Harbour according to the Rare Bird Alert team. Having seen the Elegant Tern there last year when it was finally pinned down to the Pagham colony I wasn't desperately keen to dash back there again, especially as it was the start of the afternoon commute period. A couple of hours later, I checked the RBA website & found that the identification had been updated a few minutes before. It was now considered to be the American Royal Tern that had been moving around between the Channel Islands & Northern France since Feb 17. It was now 18:40 & should be a two hour journey to Pagham. Grabbing the camera & optics, I headed straight out of the door, as I made a few quick calls to locals who might head off straight away for it. Fortunately, the traffic was light as there was some footie on the TV & I pulled into the car park at Church Norton just after 20:30. The car park was packed, but somebody was about to go & I managed to slot into that space. Five minutes later I arrived at the beach & spotted Edge & some of my old Southampton Birding mates. A look through one of their telescopes quickly got me onto where it was walking around in the colony. It's a bit far to the colony for decent photos, but the light was good & it was on view: so I wasn't going to complain. I grabbed a few photos over the next thirty minutes before the light started to fade. I couldn't leave as Peter Moore was still en route & I had said I would stay to ensure he could get to see it. Finally, Peter arrived & the pressure for him was off. He wasn't in when I rang him, so I couldn't have picked him up en route. But I was planning to stay over if I hadn't seen it, so sharing a lift on this occasion wouldn't have worked anyway.
Part of the Pagham Harbour Tern colony: The Royal Tern was just to the right of the bungalow with the white end
Royal Tern: Close crop of the last photo
I had seen the Royal Tern in Ireland in 2016. However, this was a British & English Tick so was worth making the effort. Secondly, this individual has been identified as the American subspecies, whereas the Irish Royal Tern had been identified as the African subspecies (both identified based on DNA samples). There have been suggestions in recent years that the two subspecies could be split at some point in the future. It wouldn't make any difference to my British List, however, there is a potential Tick in those circumstances to my British & Irish List.
Royal Tern: Another harsh crop. However, I'm just grateful I was able to see it that evening as it was too far for many Birders to get there after the news broke
The following morning the Royal Tern disappeared out to sea just after 04:35 & was never seen again. I wasn't too worried at this point as I had seen it, but I did feel sorry for those Birders who hadn't made it by dawn. Generally, I like to wait on news, but rare Terns are the exception that make me want to be there pre-dawn (if I can't see them the evening before), as they have a habit of disappearing out of Tern colonies very early.
Royal Tern: About half an hour after I arrived, the light started to go
I had a pleasant day sorting more Odyssey photos, until 20:15 that evening, when I checked the RBA website & found the Royal Tern had been seen again at Lodmoor, before flying out to sea. Here we go again. I skipped the camera as the light would have been poor & again raced out of the door, whilst ringing locals. Another footie match & quiet roads & I arrived around 20:45. There was a group of about 15-20 locals on the beach scanning the bay & chatting, but it was negative news. Well it was only going to be an hour or so until it got dark, so I decided to wait it out. Around 21:30 a few people started departing, but I was going to stay to close to last light, before moving for a final check of the Lodmoor Tern islands. At 21:35, Marcus Lawson rang to say he had just found it sitting on a buoy out in Portland Harbour & visible from the Billy Winters cafe at Ferrybridge. I shouted the update to the other Birders & ran to the car. Ten minutes later, I was pulling into the Billy Winters car park & was first to Marcus's telescope which was trained on the buoy. I became the first Birder to have seen it on consecutive nights in different English counties. I think Julian Thomas was the only only person to get the double when he arrived after 22:00. Again, it disappeared first thing in the morning & only one or two people managed to see it. As I write this Post at the start of July, it hasn't been refound in the country. But there must be a reasonable chance it will pop up in another Tern colony somewhere on the South coast in the next few weeks.