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....

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Whiskered Terns at Sandbach Flashes, Cheshire

With Whiskered Tern still being a species I needed in Britain, two turning up at Long Eaton Gravel Pits in Derbyshire on Friday morning before relocating to Attenborough Nature Reserve across the border in Nottingham for the remainder of the evening had me tempted to make the journey over the next day for my last remaining species of ‘Marsh Tern’ to see in the UK.

However, it seems the terns had other ideas, and checking my phone in the early hours of Saturday revealed them to have departed overnight, leaving just a solitary Black Tern in their wake. Fast forward a few hours and having drifted back off to sleep, I was this time woken up by a phone call from Alex (my previous weeks lie in had been cut short by the news of the White-crowned Sparrow at Woolston Eyes) – the two Whiskered Terns had been re-found at Sandbach Flashes in Cheshire, just 20 minutes away from my house.

Grabbing a quick breakfast on the way out, we were soon on our way, and 20 minutes later were enjoying great views as the two terns paraded around Elton Hall Flash, swooping low over the surface of the water to feed and displaying their gorgeous sooty grey bellies and bright white contrasting under tails.
Whiskered Tern - Sandbach Flashes, Cheshire
Perching regularly on several of the wooden fence posts submerged in the water, we were treated to excellent scope views of the pair, on some occasions even flying alongside and perching with the single Common Tern that was present and in turn offering a great comparison between the two species.
Whiskered Terns - Sandbach Flashes, Cheshire
Both Whiskered Terns together
Whiskered Terns - Sandbach Flashes, Cheshire
Common and Whiskered Tern - Sandbach Flashes, Cheshire
Common Tern on the left, Whiskered Tern on the right
The size different was extremely noticeable in flight – the Whiskered Terns being much smaller, while the Common’s longer tail feathers were also apparent. We were also able to note another key identification feature of Whiskered Tern - their shallow forked tails were clear to see as they dipped and dived, while their greyish rumps also contrasted to the Common’s pure white backs.
Whiskered Tern - Sandbach Flashes, Cheshire
The shorter forked tail and grey rump of the Whiskered Tern is clear to see in flight
Whiskered Tern - Sandbach Flashes, Cheshire
Mostly keeping their distance and remaining in the middle of the flash, one would occasionally power over to the near side, on one occasion feeding just metres away in the corner, giving outstanding views to the gathered crowd before moving swiftly back over to the far edge of the water.
Whiskered Tern - Sandbach Flashes, Cheshire
Looking superficially like a cross between a Black Tern and a Common Tern, the gorgeous jet black hoods, blood red bills and dark crimson feet all stood out, even at a distance.
Whiskered Tern - Sandbach Flashes, Cheshire
Whiskered Tern - Sandbach Flashes, Cheshire
Departing as expected the next day, two (probably the same) were reported from Saltholme RSPB in Cleveland, adding further mileage to their tour of the UK. With several other Whiskered Terns reported in Gloucestershire, Hampshire and Somerset over the past few days, the warm weather and winds from the continent seem to have resulted in a mini influx of these delightfully acrobatic terns, and being the very first site record, they are another great local bird for Sandbach Flashes.
Sandbach Flashes, Cheshire
Elton Hall Flash
Having seen just a single bird in Southern Spain two years ago and having missed a juvenile bird at Burton Mere Wetlands in the Autumn of 2010, these were the first local Whiskered Terns in 5 years that I could get to, and it was great to see this European rarity relatively close to home – always ideal!  

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