Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Tom terns 30

Last weekend was Tom’s 30th Birthday Party (the much anticipated Birthday was the week before), I think my liver has almost recovered. More importantly, a few weeks before Tom, Jack and I had bundled into the car in hope of Tom’s all important 300th bird.

With it being such an important tick, we had our eyes set on one of the UK’s scarcest breeding birds, the thought being that we could be certain of a good view near their nest site. For Jack and I this meant a four-hundred-and-sixty-mile round trip, for Tom it was a mere 400 hundred miles. We decided to head to his and let him do the bulk of the driving; three and a bit hours and a lot of junk food later, we were safely on the Northumberland coastline, enjoying one last coffee in The Fat Mermaid (cakes highly recommended) before meeting our boat.

The harbour was full of redshank, black headed gulls, eclipse eider, and the occasional sandwich tern (each one causing us to flinch). We had a worrying few minutes wondering whether we would be allowed onto the over booked boat, but fortunately places were found for all. Jack took the 450D and the 250 lens, I took the 7D and the Sigma 500, and the frantic snapping began. The air was full of guillemots, razorbills and puffins, gannets dove further offshore, and there was a constant coming and going of terns.

Tom and I flicked between cameras and bins, looking for dark bills, bright clean wings, long tail feathers; the hallmarks of the roseate tern. We approached Coquet Island over fifteen minutes, somewhat impatient as the boat stopped to take in seals hauled out in the shallows. We had both had likely looking birds at a distance, but nothing definite to our untrained eyes.  

Slowly, we edged around the island, nipping in close to peer through binoculars at the pairs perched around their nest boxes. Then, joy; not 5 meters from the boat an adult fluttered down to the sea surface and began to bathe, allowing us some awkward but beautifully clear pictures. Delighted doesn’t begin to cover our mood as we snapped away, then put aside the cameras for a really focused look. We were so chuffed that dipping on black tern on the way home (and missing little bittern in the process) didn’t bother us at all.

Bathing Roseate
Jack had even greater success with the 450D than I did with the 7, the shorter lens coping much better with the changing light. He managed to get all of the following shots, catching many of the best diagnostic images ...and he's never borrowing my camera again...

Jack's improved image of the beak

Jack's shot showing the individual crown feathers...

...and Jack's image of the dark primaries...

Of course, Tom being Tom, a few days later he snuck out after work for the East Leake bee-eaters, entering his third decade on 301. So now we both have 400 before 40 firmly in our sights, with Tom holding a 47 species and two year advantage. I’d better get my skates on. 
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