Well after the Pacific Swift I thought this year was done for new birds, two for me in one year is a rare thing these days. So when the mega alert went off on Monday I figured it would either be something I had already seen or on a far off island. Well when I read it and it said Bridled Tern on the Farne Islands I was shocked, surely not another lifer? Bridled Tern is one of the very few birds most had already seen, I managed to not see the fairly local bird in 1984 at Rutland and the widley twitched long stayer at Cemlyn Bay in 1988 (I believe there was a twitchable bird in 1991 but you had to be very fast off the mark). So its been a long wait with various fly bys and one rightly suppressed bird in a tern colony since then.
Even then I was reluctant to go, its a long drive to the Farnes and I hate boats! Plus it wouldn’t stay would it, or we would not see it anyway as it was in the tern colony? Anyway I wasn’t too fussed, till the bird roosted by the jetty. Bugger!
Anyway as the bird showed on and off throughout Tuesday and the NT wardens were allowing access out of hours to the roosting area near the jetty, so we eventually decicded the trip was worth it, just for the fun if nothing else. I rang Andrew Douglas who runs Serenity boat tours to the island but his phone was dead so on a chance I left him a message via text, amazingly that evening he rang me back (great service!) and we got two seats on a boat at 9am, there was one at 6.30am but we couldn’t get up there for that one, we would not have had any sleep and I’m getting too old for that.
So at 4.30am after about 1.5hours sleep (why does that always happen, when you need sleep, you cannot get to sleep?), we set off noth up the A1. Despite the weather saying fine and sunny we drove through heavy rain… but eventually we pulled into Seahouses an hour earlier than expected! We had had a pager message whilst on the road indicating the first boats had seen the bird by the jetty so anticipation rose a bit.
Still that extra hour in Seahouses gave us time to get a bacon roll and a cup of beverage and enjoy the scenery as the weather brightened up.
The Islands from the quay.
This had us going for a moment….
Its been a long time since I went over to the Farnes (we still used 35mm film in those days so you can tell how long it is!), so it was nice to get reaquainted with the area.
We could see the first boats coming back to harbour from the islands and when they landed the birders aboard were happy campers, but they had bad news, the bird had flown….
Now it did that yesterday but returned so we were not that worried…..
So at just past 9am we set sail aboard the Serenity II. The sea was lovely and calm and the weather was still improving from overcast to sunny spells. We of course enjoyed good views of loads of auks etc as we sailed across all sitting on the water, and in the distance a large flock of Common Scoter moved north.
As we drew near the sound and smell of the bird colonys was awsome and we sailed under the small cliffs below the lighthouse where rank upon rank of Guilliemots, Razorbills and Kittiwakes were all sitting on their nest sites.
We arrived at the landing jetty and were disembarked to greet the awaiting NT staff, they have been brilliant in allowing landing and supervising everyone. They told us the bird had not returned but as it had done the same yesterday and had returned when the tide changed there wasn’t too much to worry over. However we had to leave at 12 o’clock so they could prepare for the afternoons guests and have lunch. No worries the tide conditions were that the bird… if it followed the previous days routine should be back 10-10.30am anyway….
Our most excellent vessel.
I had forgotten just how brilliant the Farnes are, superb views of terns, Puffins etc. The terns were roosting on the rocks feet away and hundreds were constantly wheeling over head and coming and going to the main colonys, this all of course brings the attendent danger of falling whitestuff, but why is it always me they hit? Glad I put on my waterproof!
I didn’t want to use my camera battery too much as I wanted to keep it for the bird should it reappear but couldn’t resist taking some pic’s.
Oddly the only pic I got of Common Tern.
Time ticked on…. and no sign of the target, still plenty to look at, including a Manx Shearwater flying past. I must admit to being just a little worried though as the minutes passed but I was still not too bad and anyway the birds around us were so good. Then this chap arrived…
Directly below us on the jetty he/she dived and snuffed and generally amused, then it went ashore not far from us on the beach. For me it was the star of the show, as it chased the terns around a bit before settling down on the sand where it provided endless amusement to me as he writhed around and waved it’s tail and scratched his nose!
Good set of teeth!
A few Eiders arrived and wandered up the beach, the females plumage is beautifully intricate.
Scruffy imm Drake Eider.
Yet another Arctic Tern! I couldn’t resist them…
Anyway dispite these attractions you could feel the tension rising amongst the 40 or so birders gathered on the quay. The atmosphere was serious and quiet. Time ticked on and a few checks of watches were being seen. By 11 o’clock I will admit that with an hour left I was begining to feel a few niggling doubts, (Alan kept saying to stop giving off the negative vibes!), and I must admit I think we all began to make plans as to whether we would all return on the next boat back out… or perhaps wait till 6.30pm to try for the roost. We had almost decided to return for the afternoon (we could walk round the island too then). Then as I was idley watching some Puffins at 11.20am I heard a commotion behind me….People were turning and looking, “its there!” went the cry, but just where, was my worry, but after a frantic few seconds I got on the bird as it passed over the beach in front of me and rose over the green vegetation and out of view… cue a round of applause from the crowd and a mixture of relief and a irritation, as I had seen enough to ID it but not enough to appreciate it. Worse still some of the birders hadn’t seen it at all. Still it would come back to roost wouldn’t it? It was interesting to hear the relief in the gathered crowd, the tension was gone for most and the conversation level had risen. Minutes ticked by and the bird did not return. Then the warden got a phone call, the bird was circling the lighthouse, but we couldn’t go there as it was out of bounds understandably. Nearly 20 minutes later as the time reached 11.44am the Tern finally made everyone happy when it returned to the rocks by the jetty and everyone was able to appreciate the bird as it flew round and perched up. A robust and angular tern some where between Common and Sandwich in size very reminisent of the Sooty Tern on Anglesea but actually to me more attractive with the shading of the brown upper parts and longer tail etc. It looked more Common like in jizz though than Sooty being a bit slighter in build. It was interesting on one occasion to see the bird mobbed by an Arctic as it flew, as the bird reminded me a bit of a skua, (Long tailed Skus perhaps most).
To cap it all when Andrew bought the boat in to pick us up he was able to manouver the boat close in to the roost and we were treated to amazing views, pity the boat was pitching too much to get good pictures at that time!
Anyhow here are some pictures of the star Tern!