Finding the Bridled Tern on Coquet Island

Posted on 26th June 2024 | in Community , Coquet Island , Environment , Heritage & Tourism

Local bird watchers were excited to hear of the arrival of a Bridled Tern on Coquet Island earlier this month. Stewart Sexton of Alnwick Wildlife Group describes his attempts to find this exotic visitor.

A rare Bridled Tern has been present on Coquet Island for the last few weeks.  Arriving on 1st June, the resident seabird wardens on the island were amazed at its presence and soon put the word out. This is a bird of global equatorial distribution, so it would be more suited to the Caribbean, Indian Ocean or North coast of Australia than an outcrop of rock in the North Sea.

Bird watchers look for the Bridled Tern on Coquet Island. Photo Stewart Sexton

My first attempt to see the tern was early evening on Monday 3rd. It was a fine day and I pulled into the Hauxley Dunes car park opposite the island to find around 8 people watching from the top of the dune. The bird had been frequenting the tall stone steps and the solar panels area so at least it was possible get directions on to it. Due to the number of birds flying around this was not as easy as it may seem and every odd angled flying Puffin caused me to pause and look again. There are an awful lot of Puffins!

Fifty minutes passed without a view, then a glimpse of something ‘different’ in the flying melee caused me to stop and take a breath. No, not a Puffin this time, there it was, the Bridled Tern in over the island and circling around the solar panels. Its long brown wings stood out and even the bright white sides to the tail could be seen when it was at the right angle. It was on show for around 20 minutes and eventually went out of view in some grass. Success!

The elusive Bridled Tern (centre). Photo Stewart Sexton

Getting closer
Although I had at least seen the bird, it all felt a bit unsatisfactory due to the distance involved. Luckily others felt the same, so a couple of friends had organised a full birders charter of a Puffin Cruise boat the next afternoon.

Skipper Davey, guided around 40 intrepid sailors onto a lightly lumpy sea and headed the short way over the sound. Luck was on our side. Even as we made our first approach, the call went up, ‘There it is!’. Sure enough the Bridled Tern was circling around with other terns in its usual spot. It made several attempts before finally landing on the bare bank side where we all managed great views for around half an hour. Now all of its features could be seen clearly and a lot of photos were taken.

Stewart’s sketches of the Bridled Tern

Eventually it got up again, flew around a bit then headed SE out to sea again, not returning while we were there. We hung on another half an hour or more and enjoyed close Roseate Terns, Puffins, Grey Seals and even 3 Black tailed Godwits as they flew towards the mainland.

The Bridled Tern sitting on a post on Coquet Island. Photo by Stewart Sexton

Northumberland has a good track record of attracting rare terns, and this bird is the county’s sixth Bridled Tern since the first in 1988. For me, it is my third having seen birds at Hauxley in 1988 and 1989, making it a long 35 years since my last sighting. At the time of writing, the bird is still around and may spend the summer here. So, if you’ve not seen one, get on an afternoon Puffin Cruise and Good Luck!

Stewart Sexton, Secretary, Alnwick Wildlife Group

Update 26 June 2024: We believe the Bridled Tern has now left the island

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