Autumn is a wonderful time on the beach for terns. They gather in large numbers (and in New Zealand, that doesn't happen too much so it is always special) and it is the best time to see vagrants and migrants. In the last couple of weeks the white-fronted terns have numbered in the hundreds and in the afternoon they will swirl around your feet as they fly to and from the ocean. When they all take off and circle around your head it is magical. They are so close that I am absorbed and never manage to photograph them. Still, if I got all the photographs I want today, what would I do tomorrow? A project for next year I think will be to get them in group flight. My best effort this year was when I was lying on the beach and watching them land almost in formation. It reminded me of planes landing at a busy airport.
White-fronted Tern (sterna striata)
Another wonderful moment that day lying on smelly sand, getting bitten by flies and in seventh heaven was watching them being pushed up the beach by the tide. I'd like to say this shot of them marching in synchronicity is carefully framed but in reality it was a lucky shot.
A juvenile black-fronted tern has also visited this week, a regular autumn visitor and one of my favourites.
Black-fronted Tern (chlidonias albostriatus)
A rarer visitor has been spotted on the beach in the last couple of weeks, the arctic tern. I haven't found one in the group myself as they are very difficult to distinguish from non-breeding white-fronted terns. A couple of years ago, I did see an arctic tern in breeding colours which was extremely unusual. This was taken at Plimmerton, Porirua. I will keep hunting on Foxton Beach.
Arctic Tern (sterna paradisaea)
The highlight of the tern invasion was when I spotted something different. And that is essentially what I do - look for differences in any birds from the white-fronted tern hoard. This bird was smaller and immediately obvious because its cap was full black all the way to the bill. The white-fronted tern gets its name from that white bar between the black cap and the bill, so anything different from that is interesting. I thought initially it was a gull-billed tern but it wasn't big enough and didn't have that distinctive chunky bill. I discounted arctic and antarctic terns as the bill was black. I concluded it must be a breeding common tern (race longipennis, the only sub species to reach New Zealand). This is exceptional and very rare. Happy me to see it. Very happy me to get close up views and photographs. It was a stunning bird.
Common Tern (sterna hirundo longipennis)