Sunday, June 9, 2013

Least Tern!

This is, without doubt, one of the worst photos to appear on this blog. But the bird in the picture is identifiable, and it is a Least Tern! This species is a major rarity in Ohio, with on average perhaps one or two reports annually, although some years there are no records. Rob Thorn found this tern at the upper end of Alum Creek Reservoir last Friday morning, and put the word out. News of his find was somewhat punishing, as I was stuck in my office all day, the tern is one of my major nemesis birds (for Ohio), and Alum Creek and the tern site is only a half-hour away.

I finally made it to the scene not long before dusk, and spotted the tiny tern in no time flat as it hunted minnows just where Thorn had reported it. Great distance and dim lighting conspired to eliminate the possibility of decent photos, but nonetheless you can see the tern's yellow bill and white forehead - good field marks. In life, the Least Tern is truly dinky; far smaller than the Common or Forster's terns, which are regular migrants on our local reservoirs. It is utterly dwarfed by another fairly common migrant, the Caspian Tern, which outweighs the Least Tern by 15 times!

I'm not a big lister, except when it comes to Ohio. Longevity - I began chasing birds in my home state long before I had a driver's license - has allowed me to develop a fairly sizeable state list. Thanks to my supportive parents, and oldest brother, who would take me to see megas when I was just a lad, I have species such as Bachman's Sparrow and Red-cockaded Woodpecker on my Ohio list, and those will be pretty unlikely additions in the future. I've also learned that when possible it is best to proceed apace to the scene of a major rarity, and I'm glad I didn't linger any longer with this tern. It was nowhere to be found the next day, and not surprisingly - Least Terns are typically short-term visitors when they appear here.

Major props to Rob Thorn for making this find. It isn't his first time at the rare birds dance, either - he won much acclaim with his discovery of a Western Tanager in an urban Columbus suburb back in 2006. Unlike the tern, that tanager stayed for some time and was seen by scores of people, and was even featured in a local newspaper. And for the record, this Least Tern was my 370th Ohio species (the total state list is about 425).

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