Thursday, 28 July 2016

Coquet Island and Roseate Terns

Yes I’m still here!  I disconnected the computer when I went on a birding trip to Finland and Norway and it has taken two months to get it back on again.  I will eventually get around to producing a long report of what was a very exciting trip in May/June, but until then here’s a shorter account of a local trip to Coquet Island.  I speak cautiously as the electrician visits soon and will have the electric off, so I fear my computer will be down again for at least a period of time.  New equipment required I fear.  Oh well, I may as well spend some money before the bank begins to charge me interest for looking after it!

Roseate Tern

 24th July.

‘The new species was discerned by the comparative shortness of the wing, whiteness of plumage, and by the elegance and comparative slowness of motion; sweeping along, or resting in the air almost immoveable, like some species of hawk; and from its size being considerably less than that of Sterna hirundo (Common Tern).

Perhaps the above information (taken from Audubon to Xantus/B and R Mearns) noted by Peter McDougall on his first identifying Roseate Tern Sterna dougalli as a new species in 1812 may have been of use to us as we approached Coquet Island in search of Roseate Terns.  The species was identified by McDougall on the island of Great Cumbrae, in the Firth of Clyde at a time when Common, Roseate and probably Arctic Terns bred there, although it wasn’t until 1819 that the difference between Common and Arctic Tern became widely known.

Juv Roseate Tern
As our boat pulled out of Amble Harbour a few spots of rain in the air suggested that the gathering inland storm over land to the west of us was going to reach us very soon.  In the event it never did and a short way out of the harbour any rainfall previously present disappeared and we continued for the evening on almost a flat calm sea, in very good light and mild conditions.  We were able to watch the storms and cloud bursts over the land whilst feeling that we were definitely in the right place.  It felt good in be in the fresh air and on the sea once again.  The trip was organised by the Natural History Society of Northumbria.

Roseate Terns
Any description of Roseate Tern wasn’t after all required as once the eye was in numbers of the species, both adults and juveniles showed very well and their calls were easily picked up as they flew over and past the boat.  I felt we had far better sightings of the species than on a previous trip I had made and no doubt participants benefitted from the guidance of Samuel Hood who was our leader on this occasion.  Sam has of course been volunteering on Coquet and with the NHSN over recent times.  On this occasion I even had the chance to see two of the Roseate Terns clearly showing the rosy hue of the breast and I also watched as an adult fed a juvenile bird close by the boat.

What else but Puffins!
Whilst the Roseate Terns were the main target this evening I enjoyed all of the sights, sounds and smells.   Seals showed well and there were plenty of other bird species to see including of course the Puffins and Sandwich, Arctic and Common Terns.  Especially good to see was a flock of summer plumage Knot, together with two Dunlin on the island shore, and it would not have been a proper trip without the Eider Ducks.  Two of the island’s Canada Geese showed almost as silhouettes and a young Fulmar was seen on the nest.   A very good evening indeed with the only downer being that it was a Sunday and the Fish and Chip shop had closed when we returned to Amble.  Never mind, we can’t have everything.

Not just birds.

Let’s not forget that Coquet Island is an RSPB Reserve on our doorstep and that much good work goes on there.

Sandwich Terns 

Knot and Dunlin reminding me of my recent trip into the Arctic.
Incidentally, one of Peter McDougall’s birds was sent to Colonel George Montague.  It seems it was not the best example as it was wounded in the neck and the bird was later put in an unnatural posture so as to hide the defect.  Montague’s description of the bird which he named Sterna dougalli was issued in 1813 and within a year of that date Peter McDougall was dead, at that age of thirty-seven.  Montague left out the prefix ‘Mc’ when he named the species and this in part may be a reason why Peter McDougall is so little known as it would appear that the person honoured was name Dougall.  The Dutch and French names for Roseate Tern are in fact respectively ‘Dougall’s Stern and ‘Sterne de Dougall’.

Good Evening


  1. Great to see you back Brian! Visiting Coquet Island is on my to-do list.

  2. Glad to read your up and running again Brian, keep an eye on that Sparky. Dodgy characters one and all.