Tuesday, 22 November 2016

A day out with Messrs Cook and Forster

Whilst travelling back from a short-range twitch to Devon on Saturday, news broke of a Forster's Tern in Essex. I have a bit of history with this species, as having only started chasing rare birds in the late 1990s, and dipped a couple of times on a long-staying bird at Tollesbury Wick in the same county, there hasn't been another readily accessible British occurrence since. Speaking of history, J R Forster, after whom the Tern is named, was an 18th century clergyman naturalist from Danzig who accompanied James Cook on his second voyage around the world in 1772-73. During this, according to Beolens and Watkins, he gained a reputation as a 'constant complainer and troublemaker'. A man after my own heart then.
Forster's Terns can be long-stayers when they do turn up, so while my initial thoughts were 'wait and see if it sticks around until next weekend', realising that next weekend I was unlikely to be able to leave Dorset, I decided to go for it on Sunday, if family circumstances allowed. Fortunately family circumstances were unusually accomodating and I found myself free to go. 
Most local birders had seen the Dorset Forster's Tern found by Brett Spencer in the winter of 1995-96, so it looked like I would be travelling alone. No matter as, like Forster, I had a Cook to keep me company: Alastair, the England cricket captain, and the rest of the team on Test Match Special. Although they were all in India for the 2nd test, they were beamed into my cabin by the miracle of the DAB wireless and made for excellent company on the long journey to Essex.
Storm Angus risked putting a dampener on my plans so I resolved to leave Dorset after it had blown through, hoping to arrive at Mistley Quay, where the Tern was last seen, around breakfast time. The plan went pretty smoothly, until, as I got within half an hour of the Stour Estuary, the pager bore the dreaded 'no sign' message. Bother. I pressed on regardless, figuring that there was still plenty of time for it to be found, especially as it was midday before it was discovered the previous day, suggesting that the state of the tide might have something to do with its appearance.
On arrival, the view from Mistley Quay was dominated by the mud of the Stour Estuary at low tide. A large group of twitchers was looking out forlornly onto this scene but it didn't look very tern-friendly so I quickly resolved to head east up the Estuary to check out areas with a bit more water. My first stop, an exposed spot just north of Wrabness, saw me beat a hasty retreat in the face of strong winds and lashing rain. My second was more sheltered but equally unsuccessful. I pressed on as far as Harwich, figuring that harbour mouths can be as good a place as any to look for terns, but as I peered over the harbour wall, where I was joined by a couple of carloads of birders doing likewise, the Tern was reported as having been seen further back up the Estuary, a couple of miles east of Mistley. So I had the right idea but had overshot by a few miles!
To cut a long story short, 30 minutes later I was watching the Forster's Tern, identifiable even at distance by its comma-shaped black ear patch, feeding distantly out over the storm-lashed water. With the tide rising, it was only a matter of time before the Tern reappeared at Mistley Quay, where the main river channel is much closer to the shore, so I headed back there hoping for a closer view. Sure enough, the rare visitor from North America eventually treated us to a couple of reasonably close fly-pasts - it did so in horrible light, but I was happy to get a few record shots of possibly my last new British bird of 2016.

No comments:

Post a Comment