(An extract from my old birdwatching diary “Crippling Views”)
As I mentioned in a previous blogpost, I used to be a twitcher and ranged far and wide across Great Britain in search of rare birds. The furthest I ever went in a day from my home in Nottingham was to Glasgow and back, a distance of 633 miles, in a successful attempt to see an American Black Duck, which was, at the time, an extremely rare bird. My greatest ever failure was when I went to an island off the south west tip of Wales and failed to see the little American bird which was then called a Yellow-Rumped Warbler (270 miles). At the other end of the spectrum, I once saw an extremely rare bird from the USA, a Cedar Waxwing, as I drove the mile and a half to work in Nottingham. I hastily parked on the empty pavement, walked across to view a flock of birds, and became the fourth person to see this particular individual, the second ever for Great Britain.
I put together many of my twitching tales into a book called “Crippling Views”. I was unsuccessful with every single publisher, and back in the day, there was no Kindle to help the budding author. So……I published it myself as a ring-bound book, and sold it at £5 for a hundred or so pages. It didn’t make my fortune, but the reserve goalkeeper at Liverpool Football Club, Mike Hooper, bought a copy, so that was good enough for me.
One day, “Crippling Views” may see the light of day on Amazon’s print-on-demand, but for now, here is an extract…
“Saturday, July 14th 1988
…over the weeks, I have become increasingly dissatisfied with the in-flight views of Roseate tern that I had at Rhosneigr, Anglesey, in north Wales, that when a Bridled Tern is found at Cemlyn Bay, only a few miles along the coast, I decide to go for it…”
Bridled Tern may be rare in Great Britain, but it’s not particularly uncommon in New Zealand…
“Bridled Tern and Roseate Tern. I’ll be killing two birds with one stone, as it were. Indeed, I may not even have to go to Rhosneigr since the ternery at Cemlyn Bay is a secret site for breeding Roseates anyway. I feel fairly confident that we’ll get both birds. After all, one good tern deserves another….”
“It’s a very long trip to Cemlyn from Nottingham, well over two hundred miles, and the furthest I’ve been for a bird so far. The roads get gradually narrower and narrower, once we leave the A55, which is like a motorway compared to the increasingly countrified A5 as it approaches Holyhead. One of my friends is delighted that we go through Llanfairpwyllextremelysillylongwelshname and he bores all of us rigid with his ceaseless repetition of it. We finally know that we are nearing our destination, as we find ourselves hurtling down that true Welsh speciality, the Single Track Road Without Any Passing Places Whatsoever. I still can’t really understand why you seem never to meet anything, but you never do. Does Wales have a gigantic nationwide one way system for tourists?
At last, we reach Cemlyn Bay. As we squeal to a halt in the car park, another birdwatcher shouts to us that the bird has just flown in.”
“This is good, since the bird is apparently in the rather dubious habit of disappearing far out to sea for hours and hours on end. We are therefore, rather lucky in our timing, since, theoretically, if the bird has been out fishing, it shouldn’t be too hungry and should stay loafing around for a good while. There then follows a long trek across the relentless shingle to the ternery.”
“The whole place is rather peculiar, and perhaps unique from a morphological point of view.”
“There’s a beautiful, wide sweeping bay, with a shingle bar at one end, and between this and the land, there is a pool of probably salty, or possibly fresh, water. In the middle of this little lake, there is a flat island, covered in dry, scrubby vegetation, with plants all about a foot high. This is where the terns nest. They are mostly Arctic Terns, but with just a few Common Terns, and a whole host of noisy Sandwich Terns with their shaggy caps and black bills, replete with bright yellow tips. There are also a good few Roseates, up to perhaps twelve, sitting on a row of stones, preening.”
“They have lovely all black beaks, and short little red legs. They don’t, however, have the great long tail streamers that they are supposed to have…I presume that they must have broken these off during the busy period of feeding the young. And unfortunately it is also too late in the season for their white breasts to have the pinkish tinge that they are famous for. Nevertheless, they are fairly distinctive birds, particularly in flight, when their broad wings are very noticeable. Overall, they are very pale birds, and we realise that the birds we saw two months ago at Rhosneigr, far out over the sea, were in actual fact Roseates.
The star of the show, the Bridled Tern, stands quietly at the back of the ternery, half masked by vegetation, and other birds.”
“This oceanic bird truly is a magnificent creature, a really tropical looking individual. Its colour is most enigmatic, a kind of brownish black that one of my friends says they use in the fabrics at the factory where he works. As a shade of dress material, it’s called “taupe”. I just don’t know, but it is a rather striking colour. I cannot get over just how exotic the bird looks. After ten minutes or so, it does a series of little flypasts, showing off its darkly coloured upperparts, and its sparklingly white undersides, the whole set off by a kind of negative bandit’s mask, white instead of black.”
“It is straight into my Twitching Charts at Number One.
Probably more significant in terms of bird behaviour though, are the Herring Gulls that perch on top of a distant building, and every now and then swoop down into the ternery , pick up a single unattended tern chick, and then fly off to eat it. They are like Mother Nature’s version of Russian Roulette. If you’re number’s up, it’s curtains. Evolution in action, as the more heedless birds don’t get to pass on their genes.”
That account doesn’t seem almost thirty years ago. It isn’t just Bridled Terns that fly!
They are still, though, a rare bird in this country. Just a month or so ago this year, one was found in the Farne Islands off the coast of Northumbria. In my opinion, these three are the very best of many videos….
Bridled Tern Farne Islands 21 Jun 14
Bridled Tern, Inner Farne