All of us have a UK bird species that seems to be impossible to see for a variety of reasons. No matter how hard one tries, no matter how much effort is put in to achieving a sighting something always seems to arise to thwart one's aims. Two particular species come to mind as far as I am concerned. Penduline Tit and Caspian Tern. As rarities go they are in the amber category, good to see and scarce but not a one off. I could have seen a Penduline Tit with Badger and Andy one winter Saturday earlier this year at Stodmarsh but I had family commitments.They went, they saw it easily and really well and I went on Sunday, envisaging no problems but waited nine hours to no avail. It never showed up and was never seen again. I have still to see one. Similarly Caspian Tern has always turned up when I am duty bound to other prior arrangements and by the time these have been satisfied the bird has long gone. So it was that on Friday I had another chance to get to see a Caspian Tern on UK soil or mud in this particular case. I noted this Caspian Tern seemed to be spending the day happily ensconced at a place called Rudyard Lake which is near Leek on the North Staffordshire/Cheshire border and had established a bit of a routine. I had nothing on for Saturday so resolved to make a bid to see it on Saturday morning if it was still there.
This was about the best and only chance this year that I was going to have to finally see a Caspian Tern in the UK. I regularly checked the bird alert app. on my phone and it was still at the lake on Friday evening. One final check later in the evening elicited the fact it had flown north from the lake at around eight pm. Popular opinion suggested it usually flew to roost at a reservoir some eight miles distant in nearby Cheshire returniing next morning to Rudyard Lake. I hoped, as per it's routine of the last couple of days, that it would as predicted come back to the lake on the next morning, so I went to bed, slept soundly and woke at seven next morning. I checked the bird alert update on my phone and bingo! the Caspian Tern had returned to Rudyard Lake.
I left the house at eight and was at the lake by just after ten. After some navigational shenanigans with the Satnav I reverted to the old ways and consulted the map I had downloaded from the computer last night and found myself driving down a narrow, unsurfaced lane which ended at a small car park. This must be the spot. I walked along a broad track from the car park, completely overhung by trees on both sides forming a green tunnel that was rather pleasant in the warm sunlight, eventually coming to the northern end of Rudyard Lake which is designated as a nature reserve. A few birders were intently looking out onto an area of dried mud in the middle of which was, unmistakably, a Caspian Tern. A little distant for any decent photo opportunity but a Caspian Tern nonetheless and the main point of my mission accomplished.
I have seen them in many places around the world but they always thrill me. It's that bill. Huge, hefty and in the case of this individual bright orange red. The whole tern is front heavy with a bull neck and full breast no doubt to provide a solid support for 'that bill'. It is the very essence of the bird. Almost the size of a large gull it stood on long black legs dwarfing several nearby Black headed Gulls, all of them dozing in the sun. Already in winter plumage with grizzled white and black on it's crown and a highwayman's mask of black from the eyes to the back of it's head, it regularly opened it's monstrous bill to expose a bright red gape as the warmth of the sun caused it to overheat. Every so often it's head would droop and eyes close as if the heavy bill was just too much to bear but mostly it was ever alert constantly scanning the sky above with cocked head. It took a brief flight around the lake, front heavy with a shallow forked tail and long, gull grey wings before returning to the muddy expanse and loafing gulls at our end of the lake
The muddy area it frequented was liberally scattered with the shells of expired fresh water clams looking like brown stones as they stuck up from the mud. All the birds were almost comatose in the sun and an after party, post breeding atmosphere seemed to permeate them. This is the time of plenty. Long daylight hours and no urgency. It will soon change. High summer is now upon us all, that dead time when nature metaphorically holds it's breath for a few weeks, pressaging the slow decline into autumn, shorter days and the struggle to survive. A flock of Lapwing stood relaxed, quiet and still on the grass with some resting Grey Herons listlessly preening behind them. Two Oystercatchers sat, wings akimbo on the mud, rested and now with no breeding responsibility. A Common Sandpiper and three Little Ringed Plovers were the only waders active as they moved hesitantly along the water's edge with juvenile Pied Wagtails, like children with an excess of energy, calling cheerily and flycatching energetically amongst the clam shells. The Caspian Tern stood half asleep. It was noon. I left it and walked, content and fulfilled, back to the car.I would be home by early afternoon.