CASPIAN TERNS: A RARE TREAT FOR ABACO


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CASPIAN TERNS: A RARE TREAT FOR ABACO

The magnificent Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia is the world’s largest tern species, with an adult wingspan of about 5 feet. These birds are widely distributed throughout the world, though on Abaco and in the Bahamas generally they are classed as a very uncommon transient species, classified as T4 signifying a mere handful of reports. Ever. 

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However Keith Kemp, redoubtable beach monitor for piping plovers, recently saw 2 on Winding Bay beach, Abaco. Moreover he managed to photograph them in flight (see header and above image).

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Keith’s are not the first Caspians to be photographed on Abaco. Bird wizard Woody Bracey managed to take one (below), which duly found its way into the ‘The Birds of Abaco‘.  Sadly it could only be included in the single-bird supplement: we needed at least two images of a species for it to qualify for a spread in the main part.

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Caspians have black legs, which usefully distinguish them from the tern species with orange or yellow legs. Note the heavy red / orange bill, which has a dark tip that is more noticeable in the breeding season. These large birds feed mainly on fish, and use their spectacular bills to good effect, hovering and then plunge-diving onto their prey.

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Caspian terns are found on 5 continents. The transient birds that pause in the Bahamas are on their migration to the West Indies and Gulf. Or on their way back, of course.

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WHY ‘CASPIAN’?

In the late c18, a specimen bird was found on, in or beside the Caspian Sea and was promptly named after it. The distribution map above suggests they still breed in the area. How fortunate it wasn’t found by the Dead Sea…

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WORRYING WIKI FACT OF THE DAY

In 2016, a nest of the Caspian tern was found in the Cape Krusenstern National Monument in northwestern Alaska, 1,000 miles further north than any previous sighting. This development was part of a general trend in Alaska of species moving to the north, a tendency ascribed to global warming.

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Credits: Keith Kemp (1, 2); Dmitry Mikhirev (3); Woody Bracey (4, 7); Dick Daniels (5); J J Harrison (6); planetofbirds (range map)

“SEVEN GOOD TERNS DESERVE AN AUTHOR”: BIRDS OF ABACO


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“SEVEN GOOD TERNS DESERVE AN AUTHOR”: BIRDS OF ABACO

A total of 12 tern species have been recorded on Abaco and in Abaco waters. Ever. Some are permanently resident, some are winter visitors, some arrive for the summer and one or two – for example the Arctic Tern – are one-off or vanishingly rare sightings. A few are commonplace, some you may see if you know where to look or are lucky, some would not be worth making a special trip to Abaco to find…

Here are 7 tern species that all feature in the newly published “Delphi Club Guide to the Birds of Abaco”. A cunning code devised by Bahamas ornithologist Tony White tells you when they are around (PR, WR, SR = permanent, winter, summer resident; TR means transient) and the likelihood of seeing one at the appropriate time (1 = very likely to 5 = next to no chance). B means ‘breeds on Abaco’.

The header picture shows a line up of Royal Terns perched characteristically facing the breeze on a dead tree far out on the Marls. I took it while we were out bonefishing, and our guide Ishi very tolerantly poled nearer to the birds so I could get a better shot at them with the sun behind me. The ones shown are in an intermediate stage between non-breeding plumage and full breeding plumage, when the ‘caps’ are black. One (shown below) had the full black cap.

BRIDLED TERN (SR B 2)Bridled Tern, Bruce Hallett

CASPIAN TERN (TR 4)Caspian Tern Woody Bracey

GULL-BILLED TERN (SR 3)Gull-billed Tern Alex Hughes

ROSEATE TERN (SR B 2)Roseate Tern Woody Bracey

ROYAL TERN (PR 1)Royal Terns RH / KS

SANDWICH TERN (SR 4)Sandwich Tern Woody Bracey

LEAST TERN (SR B 1)Least Tern Tony Hepburn

The other 5 species recorded are: Sooty Tern, Black tern, Common Tern, Arctic Tern and Forster’s Tern

Photo Credits: Bruce Hallett, Woody Bracey, Alex Hughes, RH

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