White-fronted Terns a great spectacle

Many people – most people in fact – go to the Foreshore in Newcastle to walk along the beach or the breakwater and enjoy the view.

WINTER VISITOR: The White-Fronted Tern is a welcome visitor and are a joy to watch. Picture MARGARET CLARKE

WINTER VISITOR: The White-Fronted Tern is a welcome visitor and are a joy to watch. Picture MARGARET CLARKE

Over the winter months there is also the possibility of seeing migrating whales as they make their way north and then south again at a later date.

The sight of a whale breaching is truly an awe-inspiring sight. There are other winter visitors to our coast however, that are well worth watching … iF not quite as spectacular as the whales.

And it’s these little feathered treasures that inspire me to visit the harbour during the cooler months.

It is very enjoyable to spend a few hours in the sun while watching the activity and behaviour of the seabirds. It is also a very good reason to grab a coffee.

White-fronted Terns are the most common species of tern in New Zealand and during the winter months they visit the East Coast of Australia.

Approximately 90 per cent of the Australian records of this species are of immature birds.

The Newcastle Ocean Baths at high tide is a great place to see them sunbathing with the other terns and seagulls on the rock shelf. They sleep, preen, squabble with each other and generally are a joy to watch.

The Newcastle rock shelf is also a good place for amateur photographers like me to practice as you can get reasonably close to the birds without them taking off.

One of the biggest challenges however, is to capture clear images of birds in flight.

Once the tide recedes they take to the air looking for small fish just below the water. They forage in the ocean swell along the rock shelf and further out to sea.

Terns dive for their supper from six to ten metres above the surface and can submerge to about fifty centimetres.

There have been as many as 70 of these terns recorded roosting at the Ocean Baths during

August but more often they appear in smaller numbers.

White-fronted Terns are white with a grey back and wings and the head is covered with a black cap.

 In non-breeding birds the forehead is white.

They have a black bill and reddish legs. Young birds have brownish markings on the wings.

Soon the terns will be leaving to travel south for the breeding season.

They nest between October and February in colonies on islets, reefs, cliffs and beaches in New Zealand. Some have also been found to nest in Bass Strait.

I will look forward to their return next winter.

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