To: "Birding-Aus" <>
Subject: Terns
From: "Terry Pacey" <>
Date: Sun, 25 Nov 2001 07:42:24 +1000
Having done most of my birding well away from the coast, I have only come
across terns which are relatively easy to identify.  These are the ones that
frequent the large dams and lakes of inland Australia with the occasional
visit to the coast where the Crested, Caspian, etc are easy to spot and
identify.  Since moving to the Gold Coast this has changed.

On visit to Hastings Point a few weeks ago, six species of tern were on the
one area of sand and rocks and none of them were that difficult to separate
and identify.  But last Thursday, a group of us returned to the same area
and I now have found out what many of you have discussed in the past - the
difficulty of separating the "Commic" terns.

One tern, standing away from the others, was obviously different.  We spent
more than ten minutes at a distance of no more than thirty metres noting
everything we could.  We then consulted the field guides we had with us -
Pizzey and Doyle, Pizzey and Knight, Morcombe, Slater - over an extended
morning tea.  They were inconsistent but the only birds that seemed to fit
what we had seen was an Arctic Tern standing away from Common Terns.
Excitement reigned and we went looking again.  Once more, ten or more
minutes were spent comparing the bird with the other terns nearby (Crested,
Little, Common?) and checking out the notable features mentioned in the
field guides.  Definitely an Arctic Tern - we thought.

On my arrival home I checked a large number of other references including
Harrison's "Seabirds" and contacted someone with a copy of HANZAB (I can not
afford it).  Suddenly my resolve disappeared.  What we had seen was an
unidentified tern which may or may not match the description of an Arctic
Tern with a group of possible Common Terns.

I have two main questions:

    1.  How can the Australian field guides differ so much especially from
the one guide devoted to seabirds (Harrison)?

    2.  How can these "commic" terns be identified without being in the hand
(and maybe even then)?

Hastings Point is a great place for practice but that doesn't help at times.

Terry Pacey
27°57'02"S  153°24'12"E
Gold Coast
SE Qld

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