Elegant tern fits into this category. This normally breeds on the Pacific coast of the US and winters further south into Peru and Chile. There have been two or three putative records of it before in the UK, but it is very difficult to separate in the field from lesser-crested tern and is known to hydridise with other terns, including our own sandwich terns. So, the putative records have been left as that - verdict not proven!
Last week another "putative" popped up on the south coast in the wake of the big storm that brought in the stormies mentioned in my last blog. This one however was seen to have a series of coloured leg rings. Even better, those identified it as "bird c" which had been ringed in France and also present here for a number of years. Even, even better it had been DNA tested and was shown to be a pure elegant tern!! The full story to this can be found in the link below, a great piece of scientific detective work.
Genetics and provenance of elegant terns
The bird skipped around a couple of locations without allowing the masses to connect though. Finally on Saturday it decided to drop into the tern colony at Church Norton near Pagham. It clearly felt at home, hardly surprising seeing as it had already hybridised with a sandwich tern in France. By all accounts Saturday and Sunday were a bit mad as the hordes, including Martin P, descended. Photos showed upwards of a hundred people but the bird was very elusive, moving out to sea or spending large times out of sight on an island in the estuary. This was also at some distance and with heat haze it could take 3 or more hours to get only half decent views.
I played it cool though as prevailing wisdom was that it would stay put! Finally, on Wednesday an opportunity arose. With the awful fire in London closing the A40 I was wfh'ing. The message also went out that there was work being done on the tern island over lunchtime, so no one was around spotting it and the terns would all be displaced. By mid-afternoon though I cracked. I figured that by late afternoon or early evening all the terns would be returning and there wouldn't be too many people around - a factor as parking is limited there and the alternative is a 3 mile round trip walking along the coast!!!!
So, I set off mid- afternoon to head down south. On the way though there was another potential stop. At Frensham, a red-footed falcon has been in residence and showing well. I've surprisingly only seen one before but this year there has been large influx of them and Frensham was virtually on the way.
I made my way to the heath and stood on top of Kings ridge surveying the area. Five other birders were around so we covered a lot with all those eyes. I was in luck - after only about 20 minutes a bird flashed across where we were standing and landed in a tree a couple of hundred yards away. A quick 'scope check and that was the bird, and what a bird it was.
About another hour got me to Church Norton. The car park was about 2/3 full, but that was only 10-12 cars. Literally as I was parking though the phone alert went - it was back!! I grabbed my gear, threw a bottle of water into my rucksack and yomped the few hundred yards to the beach where 6 others birders had their 'scopes pointing out to the island.
Very happy drive home, even the queues on the M25 were bearable. Not only a lifer but the first definite elegant tern in the UK! Very happy. My life-list is now 356 vs. BOU or 365 vs 400-club rules. That 400 mark is edging closer but a few more years yet I fear. My year list is romping away - that takes me to 235 way ahead of my best ever year and more importantly 18 ahead of Martin!! Should go quiet for a bit now till Autumn kicks in, though you never know whether a cheeky rosefinch might drop in or even that Royal tern in Guernsey might pay us a visit.