Friday 27 October 2017

Caspian Terns in Mie

Birding started with three Great Knot on the beach yesterday, still tricky to pick out before sunrise, but the sky was clear and dawn bright and clear when it came. And not much later I was optimistically scanning the off-shore bamboo poles for Crested Terns when these two birds caught my attention, also tricky to pick out.

The two in the centre on top of poles were clearly terns but at this distance it isn't possible to see the bill let alone what shape or colour it might be. Still, I suspected Caspian.

Caspian Tern is annual but rare in Japan; I saw my first as recently as January 2016 in Kyushu. So why did I think those distant specks were Caspian? The simple answer is the the four specks in the following image.

At the opposite end of the network of poles are five specks perched together on a stretch of rope. Four terns and a Black-headed Gull. These specks are distinctly smaller than the previous specks. 

In September and October Crested Terns are always to be found in this area, Common and Little Terns are already somewhere warmer. So either the large specks are Crested and the smaller specks a species that should already have departed for warmer climes or the small specks are Crested leaving only one possible option for the larger specks. The scope was no help, I couldn't make out any detail but I counted 9-10 of the smaller specks and when I caught one in flight it was possible to rule out Common Tern and confirm they were indeed Crested. Ergo the others are Caspian. I'm sure Conan Doyle would approve of this reasoning even if it might leave birders unimpressed.

I took a series of shots hoping that with the aid of my pc I'd be able to detect a humongous red bill. Amazingly I could, both the large specks show a definite aggregation of red pixels about the face, completely lacking from all the small specks. However using the pc as an identification tool became academic as events in the field unfolded.

That afternoon, about 5km north as the tern flies, I was watching a Merlin terrify the local wader population when glancing up from the scope I saw a carrot flying straight towards me!

Enough to grace the face of the finest snowman. I was lucky enough to see a Caspian Tern on a seawatch at Whitburn, UK in the late '60s and though I've largely forgotten the bird (other than it was flying south) I still remember my initial impression was "It's like a Herring Gull carrying a carrot!". 

And it just kept on coming...

and coming...

What a fantastic view... forget the specks! It flew around the river mouth and while I was checking the images on my camera I almost missed it passing even closer. After a while it settled on a sandbar amongst the gulls and would have been reasonably close for anyone who might have been on the opposite side of the river.


  1. Glad they came close, they are a pretty exciting bird. The first species on my Australian list no less. I saw one this year too (and another in 2006).............AFAIK that represents 50% of all the Caspian Terns in Hokkaido ever. Those seen by birders anyway...........god knows how many really occur.

  2. I've seen three in Kyushu and this is my first in Honshu, so if it comes down to percentage per island I think you win hands down;)I don't think they're so common Stuart, plus as terns go, not many will be overlooked by birders... unlike say a Lesser Crested Tern.