White-winged Black Terns, SEQld

To: birding-aus <>
Subject: White-winged Black Terns, SEQld
From: Jill Dening <>
Date: Thu, 23 Dec 2010 13:24:18 +1000
Hi All,

It just occurred to me that every year about this time I get enquiries from people about to go on holidays and wanting to know where to see their first White-winged Black Tern. So perhaps it's timely to copy an answer I gave this week.

"They are around, but so far I haven't seen them on any on the freshwater bodies around my region. We had 14 of them in our December survey in Noosa estuary, in mixed flocks with Commons (the majority) and Littles. People have a lot of difficulty sorting them out. If you look at them in a flock of commons and littles, they are midway in size between the two, and are the ones with the mohawk haircut. Sideways they look as though they are wearing earphones.

WWTE are underrepresented in the daytime flocks in the estuaries, because of their habit of staying out at sea during the day, and only coming in at last light to roost overnight. During the day it's hit and miss.

I did a Caloundra survey this week, and saw no WWTE, only Commons. Same at Currimundi Lake (marine). I haven't been in Maroochydore in the past few weeks, but they do go there. Noosa is more likely. You'll probably need a kayak or boat to get close enough to id them. I haven't been out to the Lake Atkinson, but yes, they do occur there. They also come to Ewan Maddock Dam at Landsborough, but so far I don't think any have been there this season.

We see them in almost full breeding plumage before they leave, but when I look at pics taken in the northern hemisphere, I know we never see the full deal.

I can send a full size pic (so you can zoom in and get definition) of a mixed flock in Caloundra - northern tip of Bribie Is - in December a couple of years ago. There are quite a lot of WWTE in this pic. "

If anyone wants a look at the pic, just email me privately.

On the subject of Noosa, it's possible to drive and not take a boat, if the terns are using the north spit. You can check this from Noosa Woods on the south side before you set out. You take the barge across the Noosa River at Tewantin ($6 each way), take the Wallaby Track to bring you out on the north shore, follow the track as it deteriorates until you are at the beach. There you park and walk down the beach a few hundred metres until you are on the north spit. I have never seen the final bit of track impassable to 2WD, but then, there has been a great deal of rain lately, so be careful. It is illegal to drive onto the north spit, or to take a dog.

Be aware that as you approach a flock of terns, they don't behave like waders. Waders run away, but terns lift and fly off, so you might find yourself alone on the spit if you aren't careful. The signal from an uncomfortable tern is a wing-spread, as if they are stretching. If you back off at that point, they may stay.


Jill Dening
Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

26° 51' 41"S  152° 56' 00"E

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