I am posting this in the event that someone else might have seen this bird
recently, or that someone else can offer experience greater than mine.
On Saturday I held the first of a series of tern identification days on the
Caloundra sandbanks. It went reasonably well, and the next is on Jan 25 for
Murphy's Law was alive and well, when Jill Chamberlain spotted an unusual
tern in the final ten minutes of our time at the sandbanks, after the first
load had started back to shore. At the time she came to me and said she
thought she had a Common Tern in her scope, except it had red legs and bill.
It was preening vigorously with its head mostly away from us. It was partly
obscured all of the time in a flock of about a thousand or two, and I never
saw its primaries or tail. Then the flock lifted, and we couldn't relocate
For the record, this is what I did see:
Bill part bright red, part black
Legs bright red
Very strong carpal bar
Stronger cap that Common Terns present (which are still showing no cap
movement from non-breeding), but not full cap
Otherwise like a Common Tern, same size
I strongly believe it was a bird in transitional plumage between
non-breeding and breeding. If I had seen the primaries, I would have been
able to say for sure which way it was going, but nb -> b is the most likely.
My first thought was that it might be a Roseate Tern coming out of breeding
plumage. I discounted Roseate Tern because it showed a carpal bar. Whilst I
am not too familiar with Roseates, I don't know of them ever showing a
carpal bar. And it was a very strong carpal bar.
I feel that it was most likely a Common Tern. But I think there is the
possibility that it might be the first time I have ever seen (and I
emphasise the MIGHT) the nominate species of Sterna hirundo. There has been
the odd record of a nominate on the east coast, but the usual place for
these to turn up is on the west coast of Australia. They do not belong to
our flyway. They should be over in one of the European or American flyways.
However, they do breed as far east as western Siberia. From east of this
point the subspecies, our subspecies, longipennis, takes over.
I just wonder if it could just be one of our regular longipennis with more
red that is usual. Not sure. I have seen Commons before showing dark red
legs and dark red on bill, but this was bright red, somewhat like the red on
the bill of a Caspian Tern.
I'll cc this to Chris Corben, who might have an opinion, as he has a wealth
Sunshine Coast, Qld
26º 51' 152º 56'
Ph (07) 5494 0994
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