Sunshine Coast Birds

Birding and other wildlife experiences from the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere in Australia - and from overseas - with scribblings about travel, environmental issues, kayaking, hiking and camping.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Aleutian Tern for Christmas

Aleutian Tern
Aleutian Tern had long been high on my wishlist. I expected to see them in Anadyr on our Russian Arctic cruise and was not happy to learn that one was hanging around the ship in the harbour before we left, but nobody bothered to announce it.

Aleutian Tern
So when Liam Murphy reported last week that he had found as many as 14 Aleutian Terns at Old Bar on the NSW Central Coast, there wasn't too much decision-making to be made. Liam's find is quite extraordinary. He found the birds at the same spot this time last year but their identity was not known until we was trawling through photographs two months ago. The species is a scarce visitor to Indonesian waters but had not been recorded in Australia previously.

Aleutian Tern
I was daunted by the prospect of a 9.5 hour drive to Old Bar. So I flew to Sydney from Sunshine Coast Airport, caught the train to Gosford and hooked up with my friend, Kathy Haydon. From there it was a 3-hour drive to Old Bar, where we arrived at 4pm, bumping into the first of quite a few twitchers to be encountered over the next couple of days.

Aleutian Tern

Aleutian Tern
We walked 1.5km north to the end of the fence that marks the Little Tern breeding area, then a short distance inland to sand bars where the terns gather. We quickly found a ground of 9 Aleutian Terns gathered together, with a tenth bird nearby. The birds were readily approachable, with a bit of knee-deep wading required, and appeared to be quite settled.

Aleutian Terns
Occasionally some of the birds would fly a short distance and regroup, sometimes in the company of Common Terns, Little Terns and Crested Terns. Often however they would roost separately from other terns.

Aleutian Tern
We booked an overnight "family cottage" in the pleasant Lani's Caravan Park, a short distance from the site; it could have slept 4 people for $120 per night. We returned early the next morning and found just 2 Aleutian Terns. They were by themselves initially before joining a larger tern flock. The flock was put to flight by an ultra-light plane and when the birds resettled, the Aleutians were nowhere to be seen. We learned from others that they did not return until late-morning. This seemed to be a pattern: 1 to 3 birds are there in the early morning before heading out to sea, with the bigger group returning towards the middle of the day. Most of the terns appear to hang about for much of the afternoon.

It was low tide on our first visit and high tide on our second. Conditions were pretty much the same, as the sand bars are separated from the sea except during very high tides. Access initially was a shorter distance from south-west of the bars but the NSW authorities requested beach access to minimise disturbance to the Little Tern colony. I checked the lay of the land from the other side of the inlet and thought it would not make any difference; the shorter route in fact is probably less disturbing to nesting birds. And walking the beach at high tide means dodging 4-wheel drive vehicles.

Common Tern
About 20 Common Terns were present. After some initial sorting it was easy to distinguish them.


A nice gathering of Sanderlings was a bonus.

Red-necked Stint
Other shorebirds included Pacific Golden Plover, Lesser Sand Plover, Red-capped Plover (nesting), Grey-tailed Tattler, Red-necked Stint, Whimbrel and Eastern Curlew. This stint looked particularly interesting.

Little Terns were resplendent in breeding plumage. Elist.

The terns at Old Bar

1 comment:

  1. Excellent story and bird! Jealous. And scared of the 9.5 hour drive south. And the effect on my marriage;especially at this time of the year. If they are still there at new years i'll head down!