Antarctic Terns

To: "Birding Aus" <>
Subject: Antarctic Terns
From: "Chris Baxter" <>
Date: Tue, 26 Sep 2006 23:01:37 +0930
Hi Andrew (Plimer) and All

As promised, visited Cape duCouedic today to check for Antarctic Terns (would 
do more often if not for 200 km round trip!!). I arrived at 1100 hrs and 
departed at 1500 - three wonderful hours of reward for my effort. Yes, the 
Antarctic Terns were there and readily observed at quite close range (c. 
20-30m) as they roosted on rocks near Admirals Arch in the lee of the Cape's 
headland (30kph NW wind). I was intendind to visit on Wednesday but decided on 
today as forecast NW winds were favourable for birds to be at the Admirals. 
Arch roost as opposed to Inner Casuarina Islet 300+ m away. Wind are changing 
to the SW tomorrow and then SE and this does not encourage roosting at the Arch 
as it is too exposed to those wind directions-particularly SEasterlies. Anyway, 
to the point, there were four birds observed roosting amongst c. 100 
White-fronted Terns and 200 Crested Terns. On arrival there were two birds 
present, an almost full breeding plumaged individual (one white speck on front 
of crown) and a non-breeding plumaged bird (duller reddish bill and legs and 
much white on frons and crown suffused black and white and brownish nape. Only 
true black colouring was around and above eyes). The br pl. bird had white tail 
protruding beyond folded wings by several mm and the non br bird was the 
opposite with folded wings sev mm longer than tail.

Fur seals and water crashing onto rocks caused terns to flush up and fly about 
from time to time. Eventually lost the initial two birds to elsewhere and they 
were replaced with another (3rd bird), then another fourth bird. The third bird 
was in partial br plumage. Frons was black above base of bill, then leading 
into smallish patch of white spots on frons proper. Rest of cap black except 
for brownish tinge at bottom of nape. Tail noticeably shorter than folded wings 
which extended c. 40 mm beyond tail tip. Fourth bird as for first br pl bird 
described earlier but lacked distinguishing white speck on front of crown of 
first bird. This one was pretty much fully black capped except for two tiny 
white specks near it's left eye. Its white tail streamers extended slightly 
beyond folded wings. These last two birds seen were in view for about the same 
time as the first two which was about an hour or more. They eventually departed 
when flock rose up due to disturbance and were not visible at time of departure 
at 1500 hrs. All in all a very enjoyable three hours of tern watching.

Just a few closing comments on my days observations. Uusing a 20-60 times scope 
from relatively close range enabled me to see these birds very clearly. Uniform 
silvery white underwing when wings raised to preen or in flight; white edging 
to tertials; distinctive black edging to bottom of folded wing-ie upper surface 
of outer web of outer most primary-leading upper edge in flight; did not see 
any black edging to outer tail feathers; smokey grey on both upper and 
underparts of two near fully br pl birds, with white band obvious between black 
of cap and grey of underparts; dark eye; red feet with black claws.

 I must say i have loved watching both the Antarctic and White-fronted Terns as 
the novelty certainly hasn't worn off and never will. The Antarctic Terns have 
something about their behaviour that amuses me somewhat-they have 
attitude/gumption. They like to protect their own space and are not backward in 
letting the much larger  Crested Tern know whose boss! Today one of them 
grabbed the folded primaries of a Crested Tern in its beak and held on for 
about a second or two and then chased it away. They are always on the alert 
from above and will peck at the air above if another tern flies in close 
overhead. Perhaps this is a learned response to ever needed vigilance/agression 
against marauding skuas and the like at their sub antarctic breeding grounds. 
Just a thought?

All looks promising for the weekend Andrew. Fine conditions forecast and wind 
out to be back in the N again by then. We hope anyway. Good Luck.


Chris Baxter

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