A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Gull-billed Tern at Burton Mere RSPB, Cheshire

It’s not often that an alert pops up informing me of a bird just half an hour before I’m due to finish work (it’s usually mid-morning, meaning I then have to endure the rest of the day wondering if it will stick around!) so it was a nice change when ‘Gull-billed Tern’ popped up on my phone at half 3 on the Friday afternoon. It was an even nicer change to then see that it was local – being just under an hour away at Burton Mere RSPB.

A quick phone call home and we were soon well on our way, and although the bird had made a brief visit to reception pool, it now seemed quite settled on the pool in front of the Inner Marsh Farm hide - those leaving and on their way back all informing me it was happily roosting on the island.

On entering the hide the tern wasn’t immediately apparent, nestled amongst the Black-headed Gulls and facing away from the crowd with its back to us. However, it soon moved its head and the chunky black bill was instantly noticeable, much shorter and thicker than that of a Sandwich Tern and lacking the yellow tip, while the long wings projected well beyond the tail.
Gull-billed Tern, Burton Mere - Cheshire
Gull-billed Tern, Burton Mere - Cheshire
Gull-billed Tern, Burton Mere RSPB - Cheshire
The long wings were really apparent
After watching it for around ten minutes, my dad finally entered the hide – just as the tern had took off and was swiftly flying past the window and away from the pool! In a mad scramble to the window I managed to get him on it as the bird made a speedy exit – highlighting just how every second really can count and can ultimately make the difference on whether you see a bird or dip a bird on a twitch!
Gull-billed Tern, Burton Mere - Cheshire
Luckily, the tern flew back in ten minutes later, giving great views of the wings as it flew past and clearly showing the diagnostic thick black bar on the trailing edge of the wings (which is not present on Sandwich Terns).
Gull-billed Tern, Burton Mere - Cheshire
Breeding in Southern Europe, Gull-billed Tern was actually my number one target on my world list on BUBO, and after not seeing any in Spain on our visits last year and not being able to catch up with the recent Yorkshire bird, it was great to finally see this rare visitor – made even better that it was totally unexpected and out of the blue!

With a bird seen at Ynys-hir RSPB the day before, and a bird at the Hayle Estuary in Cornwall on Wednesday, it is highly likely that this individual has been following the coast around. Departing from Burton Mere at 8:40pm on the Friday evening when it flew off towards the estuary and with no sign since, it is anyone’s guess as to where it will turn up next!
Gull-billed Tern Map - early July
Gull-billed Tern sightings over the three days - a route along the coast is clear to see
5 beautiful summer plumaged Spotted Redshank were a nice bonus at Reception Hide, and with their jet black colours and star spangled white flecks, they are without doubt one of my favourite wader species and definitely deserved of a mention.

Remarkably, a second rare tern appeared locally at the weekend in the form of a White-winged Black Tern at Leighton Moss RSPB in Lancashire. Even though I caught up with the bird at Cemlyn Bay in Anglesey last year, me and Alex decided to take my mum up to Leighton Moss to see the individual that had been present there for two days.
White-winged Black Tern - Leighton Moss, Lancashire
Arriving at the reserve, we entered Lower Hide to find this stunning Eastern European visitor hawking over the pool for insects, flashing its gorgeous white and black wings for us all to admire – truly a beautiful sight. Often perching on the posts submerged in the water, we got great views of this fantastic bird – it’s always worth making the effort when such stunning individuals turn up locally.
White-winged Black Tern - Leighton Moss, Lancashire
Record shots of the wings in all their glory
White-winged Black Tern - Leighton Moss, Lancashire
White-winged Black Tern - Leighton Moss, Lancashire
A Great White Egret, Marsh Tit, a pair of Garganey and 4 Marsh Harriers (including witnessing the spectacle of a food pass between the male and a female) completed the day, and a special thanks to Alex for driving us up there.

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