The invertebrate and plant-heavy lull of June is best medicated against by a spot of down and dirty filthy twitching – step on up then the Pagham Harbour Elegant Tern which was today’s object of feathery desire.
Mike Stocker and June Watt collected me at an ungodly hour, and June stoically motored us all the way down the tarmac and through the Oxfordshire Red Kite rush hour (and all the way back too, god bless her), so that we were walking out to survey Pagham’s tern island in West Sussex by 0730 today.
A good crowd was already there, scanning the distant island, a clamour of Med Gulls (100+), Sarnie and Little Terns.
Although the Elegant Tern flew into the island colony at about 0815 after a few hours fishing offshore it promptly disappeared into the vegetation where the terns and gulls were raising young but I kept my eye locked to the ‘scope in the area it had been seen and at 0845 I was rewarded as the big long-winged tern rose out of the weeds to drift through my lens, it’s long thin yellow bill startlingly obvious.
The bill is undoubtedly the bird in this case, but colour rings (even visible in some of my lousy long distance pix) reveal it to be an adult male, first ringed down in France, possibly as long ago as 2003.
Stat-boy Stocker informs me this individual has made it down as far as South Africa twice since then, and although it usually prefers to spend its summers in the Gironde, its pervy interest in a Sandwich Tern at Pagham suggests it’ll be holidaying on this side of the channel this season.
Not bad for a bird that’s meant to be in the Pacific.
After an hour or so of “hide and seek” in the vegetation, as the Elegant Tern occasionally rose for a few tantalising seconds before dropping back out of sight, it finally flew out to bathe on a channel with the Sarnies, dwarfing Little Terns, as Cuckoo and Green Woodpecker called at our backs, and Little Ringed and Ringed Plover scudded about.
The adult male Elegant looked huge in flight, but not so much so on the deck, but then its shaggy crest and daft bill made it easy to pick up.
Its bendy bill looked longer, more obvious in flight than it did when the bird was on the mud if that makes sense, but it was clearly not as heavy at the beezer on last year’s Royal in Kerry, which had much darker primaries…there were some darker grey primary feathers on today’s Elegant too, but generally it looked long-winged and very white, with pearly grey uppers and a snow white rump and tail.
Tickety tick tick.
We detoured to the New Forest on the way back north for a civilised, if windy hour or so at a well-known watch point where we picked up two Goshawks, a displaying Woodlark, Stonechats, Hobby and numerous Common Buzzards – no Honeys though, but this wasn’t such a surprise in the cloudy, windy conditions.