‘One good Tern deserves another’

Thought that line from Spike Milligan’s tern limerick an excellent title for my post today as we have been observing more than one species of tern over the past week or so. In fact the last couple of weeks it has been rather exciting for birders out in the salterns as not only are there lots of terns, but many of the waders are now in their summer plumage and looking gorgeous, the flamingoes returned briefly and we have also seen birds of prey.  The terns though have been rather wonderful as we have seen a pair of Caspian Terns, up to a dozen Little Terns, at least three Sandwich Terns and most unexpectedly a pair of Black Terns. I know my header photograph is of the Caspian Terns but lets start with the Black Tern.Look at the waves

The Black Tern, which the Portuguese also call Gaivina-preta was an unusual sighting for us because whilst they can be seen in high concentrations here, they are a migratory bird and so it is May/June and August/September when you will normally observe them. These photographs were all taken on a rather blustery day in April. At first I thought that it was the strong winds preventing them from diving. However on looking them up in our book after we first saw them we discovered that unlike the three other terns we have observed here the Black Terns diet has no fish in it, so you won’t see them diving. They consume insects which they catch just above the surface of the water.

The birders and sharp-eyed amongst you may have noticed there is another tern in the gallery above. It is the Little Tern. HoverEven smaller than the Black Tern, the Little Tern has a body size of 21–25 cm long and a wingspan of only 41–47 cm. The Portuguese call them swallows of the sea – Andorinha-do-mar-anã, which is an very appropriate name as they are fabulous fliers. It is though their diving which I love watching, and I have challenged myself to try and photograph the dive. Not the easiest thing to attempt given their speed and size, but just occasionally I am successful!

Coming out of the dive

I also have some fabulous (read numerous says MrB!) photographs of them bathing, but I’ll save those for another day along with a few others I have of them diving. I have to though share these few with you as I think they look as elegant on land as they do when soaring in the sky.

At the other end of the scale are the Caspian Terns, who are well deserving of their Portuguese name – Garajau-grande, as they are the largest of all the terns. Their body size is 48–60 cm and they have a wingspan of 127–145 cm. There could be two pairs as we’ve seen them on different days on different ponds, and whilst I can now recognise the species at a glance I’ll never have the ability to tell individuals apart!The largest of all the terns

And my final tern is the Sandwich Tern, and for those of you from England yes they were named after the town in England! Loving the tufted heads in the windThey were first named in 1787, and whilst they are seen around the world they gained their English place name because the ornithologist who first named them in 1787 observed them in Sandwich, Kent. The Portuguese simply call them the Common Tern – Garajau-comum, not that we have seen them that often here. They are quite large with body size of 37–43 cm and wingspan of 85–97 cm. If you look carefully you can just see the yellow tip at the end of their beaks which helps distinguish them from the lesser crested and elegant terns.Sandwich Tern in Portugal

Hope you have enjoyed my terns post as much as MrB and I have enjoyed observing them. I’m going to miss seeing them when we return to England for the summer next week. So before I go let me share with you a video. It is not the greatest video as I was being buffeted by the wind, but it does give you a better feel of just how amazing these birds, the Little Terns in particular, are at flying.

PS If you want to enjoy Spike’s limerick in full click here for my previous tern post.

Author: BeckyB

It had been a good life walking, cooking, photographing, volunteering, blogging, and best of all spending time with MrB, family, & friends. Sadly it no longer is. Suddenly and unexpectedly I have become a widow.

9 thoughts

  1. I’m glad I found you. I love finding fellow birders that take good photos and write good narrative. I think I’m obsessed lol! Especially now that I have a new, better camera. I’m looking forward to reading future posts.

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