Tern help, please

To: birding-aus <>
Subject: Tern help, please
From: jilldening <>
Date: Fri, 02 Nov 2001 09:13:30 +1100
Hi Everyone,

We had an interesting day on the Caloundra sandbanks (SEQ) yesterday, and I will post all the rivetting stuff for you later, but right now I could do with a bit of help.

We saw two different terns yesterday, and I am pretty sure that they were Whiskered Terns, but I need first to check with someone who is familiar with Whiskereds, which I am not. Sure I have seen them a few, even several times when I have been away from home, but they are rare on the Sunshine Coast, where their counterpart, the White-winged Black Tern is more common.

These two birds were in different stages of breeding plumage. Common Terns were present, all either in non-breeding plumage or getting close to it. These different terns were slightly smaller than the Commons. The one in full breeding plumage had full red beak and legs, and the chest and underparts were a very dark slate grey, to almost black on the belly. The outer primaries were also very dark grey, and there was a very definite white cheek below the well-defined black cap.  They were definitely not White-winged Blacks. I know my White-winged Blacks.

My first thoughts flew to the Common Tern's nominate species hirundo, as compared with our regular sub-species longipennis, but the belly was much darker than anything I could recall in the literature descriptions. I need someone to pass on some practical experience on this point.

The only guide we had with us on the sandbanks was the new Pizzey, and that confirmed my thinking as above. (However, I have long been aware that it is a mistake to rely on just one field guide.) Out on the sandbanks, the point which sealed my conviction that they were Whiskereds was that the beaks of these two terns appeared to be slightly shorter than those of the Commons around them. I noticed also that these two also chose the company of each other every time they returned after taking flight.

Later we consulted the wise old tome, the former Pizzey, and the head and beak page doesn't give much between the Common (hirundo) and the Whiskered. I faltered.

I still think they were Whiskereds. In any case, if you are looking at the probabilities, it's not as far for a Whiskered to stray to the Sunshine Coast's coast, as it would be for a hirundo Common. But I would appreciate experienced comment.

Thanks in advance,

Jill Dening
Sunshine Coast, Qld
26º 51'  152º 56'
Ph (07) 5494 0994

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