Wednesday 18 September 2013

A just reward

Late news of a Great Snipe at Spurn on Saturday was insufficient to tempt me into breaking promises to family and self to have a lazy day on Sunday at home. Besides, I reasoned, Great Snipe is notoriously elusive, prone to flushing and rarely seen other than in flight. This one was none of those things as it turned out, but my decision was made: home it was. So we watched movies, I entertained the kids (with a little help from an Italian plumber called Mario) and even attained that pinnacle of decadence for a busy Dad, in my house at least: an afternoon kip.
Juvenile White-winged Black Tern at Swineham
With most of the day frittered away thus, it was only a matter of time before I went stir crazy, so with the light starting to fade I thrashed it down to Swineham on the bike. The weather was atrocious, but I went more to burn off some energy than in the hope of seeing much. That said, a Black Tern had been reported earlier, so I took the camera just in case. After a couple of scans of the pits I could see what I presumed to be the Black Tern at the far end. By the time I got there the bins were too wet to be of much use, so with the rain still lashing down, I whipped out the camera, protected from the weather by its long hood and the dinky raincoat I bought it for Christmas, and started rattling off shots as the tern hawked up and down.
This shot shows the white rump and darker saddle, contrasting with paler wings - neither feature as obvious as depicted in some field guides but apparently to be expected for a bird in advanced juvenile plumage
The few images I reviewed were pretty trashy and I didn't know if it would stick around so I just carried on shooting in the hope the autofocus would do its job, without really looking at the bird or giving much of a thought to the ID. (Note to self: take enquiring mind as well as camera into the field). Fellow Swineham mud-skipper Marcus Lawson then honed into view. We hailed each other across the pits and he started walking towards me at a pace which suggested I should be having a closer look at this bird.
Crucially, Black Tern would show a large black smudge at the wing-join
Scrolling further back revealed a couple of decent shots, and as Marcus pointed out the lack of a black shoulder patch, and voiced the possibility of White-winged Black Tern, we could see that several images showed a narrow white rump, and some contrast between a darker saddle and paler wings. My brain had turned to mush about the diagnostic features by this point, but fortunately Marcus had both the composure and the confidence to call it as a 'probable', a judgement later upgraded to 'definite' following further consultation with photos, field guides and local experts. Only the second record for Poole Harbour, it was a great patch tick, a just reward for staying local and another quality bird on my 'by bike' list.
The light was so low that the camera was selecting an Auto-ISO setting of 1600-2000, so I was lucky to get any kind of shot.

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