BRIDLED TERN, Northumberland
with Andy Wilkinson and Justin Lansdell
On Friday evening Andy asked me if I wanted to twitch the Bridled Tern and I found myself saying yes – well, eventually! I had thought seriously about that Ascension Frigatebird too, but the logistics of getting to Islay, the cost, time and high risk of not seeing the bird, seemed impossible. Even Eddie was tempted, who 'needed it for his world list'. But in the end common sense took over and I opted for the Bridled Tern!
Every twitch I have been on with Andy and Justin is always guaranteed to be hugely entertaining. All of us have fascinating conversations and they both make me roar with laughter. So whatever happens, their company is always excellent. Every bird I have twitched with them has been bagged and I have become used to this and it has become expected. I have never thought for a moment that we wouldn't see a bird we were twitching, the thought has never entered my head!
After phoning Andy back at around 10.45pm to confirm I was going, I left the house to get cash and snacks from the garage. I then had a shower, washed hair, made sandwiches, got birding and camera gear ready by door and had no time left for even a minutes nap! Andy left his house at 12am, got to Justin's at 1am and then picked me up (Justin driving), just after 2am Saturday morning. Justin was currently on holiday with his family and was not exactly supposed to be twitching, luckily he has a very understanding wife! We made good time and stopped at a MacDonalds near our destination for a take away breakfast – I had egg and cheese in a bun, which was really nice. The sunrise was really beautiful with an unsually bright red sun and it just looked like it was going to be a scorcher today.
We arrived at Cresswell Pond at 6.20am. We parked up on the verge, along the narrow road. To our left was Cresswell Pond, which is a large brackish lagoon and on the opposite side of the road are dunes and the sea. Well this all looked very easy and relaxed – pull up and wait for bird to appear over the pond! So we waited and we waited. Nice to bump into Rob Lambert here and also Coventry birder John Jennings. We ate, dozed and we waited. Birds seen here were: 11 Little Gulls, 3 Arctic Terns, Common Terns, Linnets, Herons, 3 Dunlins, 2 Avocets, Barn Owl, Curlew x 4. Even though it was very beautiful here, we got a bit bored in the end and decided to follow the short path opposite the pond out to the dunes to have a look at the sea. It was absolutely fabulous to be watching Puffins, loads of them dotted all over the sea! Also saw 3 Arctic Skuas, Common Terns, 3 Eider, Guillemot, Red-throated Diver, loads of Common Scoter. Also Goldfinches flying over and 2 Tree Sparrows! Coquet Island is visible from here and there was talk of the Bridled Tern possibly roosting there at night. Norfolk birders Ian B. and Richard were also here and lots of birding stories were told whilst we stood here to keep us entertained. Andy flagged after a while and collapsed in the dunes for a nap (see picture).
Suddenly we were running – news of the bird over the pond had come through. But, on reaching the pond, we found the news was inaccurate and it was actually at another pond, further along the road or so we were led to believe, so we all flew up the road to find absolutely nothing. No one knew where that message came from or if the tern had actually been seen or not, but it kept us on our toes! We decided to carry on up the road a few miles away to Chevington NWT to have a look at the pools there. Arctic and Common Terns and also a Lesser Whitethroat and female Marsh Harrier were seen, but nothing else of note. It was incredibly hot now and there was no shade. We returned to Cresswell Pool and re-parked the car, back where we had started. We all had a nap in the car at different stages! 2 Ruddy Shelducks flew south over the pond, an adult Summer. plumage Med Gull flew over the dunes and a Little Grebe and Common Buzzard were added to the day list.
At 12.52am a message came through on the pager to say 'MEGA, Cleveland, Bridled Tern Ad Saltholme RSPB on island from visitor centre at 12.52pm'. We were off, with every other car in convoy! As Justin said, at least it was south and on our way back to Norfolk. We drove like the wind and I waved at a few people we knew, as Justin overtook them!!! Our hearts sank, as the traffic very suddenly came to a complete standstill. We didn't know what was going on, but we crawled along for what seemed like ages. Another pager message came through that the bird was still there at 1.45pm. A further message stated that the bird was still there at 2.07pm as we drove along the track to the carpark. All of us were excited and we felt like we were going to see this bird, we were there and so close. Abandoned the car in the carpark at 2.10pm as did other birders and I ran, as did others, along the path, through the visitor centre, left and onto a viewing platform that overlooked the island. Everything then seemed a blur and all the voices with those words 'its flown' 'was mobbed ferociously by the common terns' just seemed unreal, we slumped into disappointment and despair! How could we have missed it by so few minutes. It later turned out that the 2.07pm pager message was 'erroneous' and that the bird was last seen at 1.50pm and flew NE over the A178 towards Tees Estuary. So we had missed it by 20 minutes! We obviously hoped that the bird would return and we stood with approximately another 100+ birders to wait. We had fantastic views of an Adult Roseate Tern sitting on posts with Common Tern and Arctic Terns at 3.30pm. It turned out that the Roseate Tern WAS in fact bird of the day! Loads of Sand Martins here. Because of the rush from the car earlier, I had forgotten to bring my scarf with me and I really started to suffer with heat stroke, as did Andy and Justin. We were completely exposed to the sun where we stood and it was the hottest time of the day. All of us dared to leave this spot to go into the Visitor Centre to loos and the cafe. Justin returned with a scrumptious looking cheese scone with butter. It was too tempting and in the end I succumbed and off I went to the cafe, but I was moments too late, the last cheese scone had just been sold, so I had to make do with a cherry scone which although nice, was not quite the same. On my return Richard (Norfolk birder) declared with a smile, that he had bought the last cheese scone, great! Lots of birders here including Neil Glen, Rob Lambert again along with John Jennings etc. The longer we stood here the more we realised this bird was not coming back. We just had to face the fact that we had dipped, big time! On a separate note, I was very impressed with this reserve and the layout of the huge visitor centre with the cafe upstairs on another level and a viewing point/veranda adjacent to the cafe and all the staff seemed very helpful. Sheer exhaustion and heat got the better of us and we decided to leave and head back to Norfolk. As we walked back to the visitor centre I passed John Jennings, who said 'I know..... don't say anything' – his face said it all (see his account of the day HERE). Back in the carpark the car was so hot you could have cooked burgers in there! We set off at 5.20pm and Justin said if the bird returned in the next half an hour we would head back.
As we cruised home a message came on the pager that at 6.34pm the Bridled Tern was seen again, but not at Saltholme! It had flown back north to Chevington NWT where we had been this morning – arghhhhhhh!!!!!! Bl**dy bird, my god how frustrating was that!!! I expected it to turn up again somewhere this evening, it was always going to! We had wonderful views of a Red Kite alongside the car, north of Wetherby Race Course along the A1. We stopped at Burger King on route and had a healthy tea of more burgers and chips and then continued home. Justin and Andy dropped me off at just after 9pm. I stumbled into the house and sorted my gear. It felt heaven to get in the shower after the intense heat today. Goodness knows what time Justin got back to his holiday cottage in Suffolk!!! I wrote one sentence on my blog: 'heatstroke, shower, bed, work in morning, blog write up on Sunday.' Got into bed by 10.15pm.
Huge thanks to Justin for driving and for both Andy and Justin's excellent company as always. Our record of seeing all rares twitched together has been broken – I suppose it had to happen one day! Looking forward to the next twitch with them, although it won't be for the Bridled Tern again, I will wait until it arrives in Norfolk! I later heard that several people have been a second time and a third in attempt to see this magnificant tern and frustratingly dipped every time. We heard far worse stories than ours! The title of this post should really be changed to "THE BIG DIP"!!! So, I dipped on a Bridled Tern and a cheese scone, oh well!
PHOTOGRAPHS TO BE ADDED