‘TERN, TERN, TERN’
There are twelve species of tern – ‘swallows of the sea’ – that to a greater or lesser extent may be found on Abaco. Whether they will actually be visible at any given time is less certain, though. The only resident species is the lovely Royal Tern, available at many locations on Abaco and the cays throughout the year.
ROYAL TERNS Thalasseus maximus PR1
In the slightly less commonly-found category are the summer migrant terns that, by definition, are only in residence for around half the year. Four of these are fairly common in certain areas, and actually breed on Abaco. The other two tern species (gull-billed and sandwich) are more rare and do not breed locally; or perhaps only rarely.
LEAST TERN Sternula antillarum SR B 1
BRIDLED TERN Onychoprion anaethetus SR B 2
ROSEATE TERN Sterna Dougallii SR B 2
SOOTY TERN Onychoprion anaethetus SR B 2
GULL-BILLED TERN Gelochelidon nilotica SR 3
SANDWICH TERN Thalasseus sandvicensis SR 4
There is one rare winter resident migratory tern species. The last one was recorded for Abaco was in January this year, when birder-photographer Sally Chisholm saw one at Treasure Cay and managed to photograph it for posterity.
FORSTER’S TERN Sterna forsteri WR 4
The final four ‘Abaco’ terns are very much the occasional visitors. Three of them pass over the Bahamas on their longer migration, but may make use of Abaco as a stopover. The likelihood of sighting one is slender but not impossible. They include the Caspian tern (shown). The fourth, the Arctic Tern, is a very rare vagrant, a bird well away from its usual home or migration route as the result of storms or faulty direction-finding or sheer happenstance. Don’t travel to the Bahamas intent on seeing one.
CASPIAN TERN Hydroprogne caspia TR 4
After the Caspian tern, the remaining three species are the transient black tern and common tern; and the vanishingly rare vagrant Arctic tern mentioned earlier. No photos of any of these I’m afraid, so here’s a handy checklist of all the recorded terns instead, with each status and likelihood of seeing one from 1 (often) to 4 (extremely unlikely).
Photo credits: Keith Salvesen (1, 2, 3, 5, 18); Tony Hepburn (4); Alex Hughes (10, 11); Bruce Hallett (6, 7, 12); Woody Bracey (8, 13, 16); Duncan Wright (9); Dick Daniels (14); Sally Chisholm (15); Keith Kemp (17)