Wednesday, 17 August 2016


I got a text from Sligo birder Seamus Feeney at 1550hrs to say he had just found a Caspian Tern on Roonagh Lough near Louisburgh. Thankfully I was near Leenane so that knocked off a bit of travel time for me. As the tern flies Roonagh Lough is just 28km away from Clifden but thanks to narrow, winding roads, Killary Harbour and infuriating slow driving tourists, it's actually 66km away by road which takes about 90 minutes. This summer has seen huge numbers of tourists visiting the west of Ireland.
I was first on scene. Before running/walking down to Seamus who was by the lake side I had a very quick look through the scope from the van. It was clear that it was actually a Royal Tern due to the body size and bill size, colour and pattern. I was shortly joined by Eoin McGreal, the ranger for the area who was also close by when I passed news onto him.

The bird most of it's time lying on the exposed sand and was generally reluctant to join the small Sandwich Tern flock when they regularly flew back and forth out to the sea. It did make a few flights around the lough over the four or so hours of observation and it was seen that the right leg was hanging underneath the body as the bird flew. It was even more obvious when the bird attempted to land. While the left foot was opened for landing, the right foot remained closed. While standing the right foot was regularly bent backwards in an unnatural posture. It wasn't seen to fish at any stage but spent a good deal of time asleep.
The bird was in full summer plumage with just a few scattered white flecks in front of the eye. Royal Terns are supposed to lose their full black crowns very early in the summer (most have white foreheads by June) so it's a little unusual that this bird has retained this feature so late in the summer, I wonder if this could be somehow related to the leg injury? It may never be possible to certain if it is of North American or African origin although an argument could be put forward for the former subspecies in this case.

It also doesn't look like it's a full adult and it may actually be a second-summer/third calendar due to the following;
Dark secondary bar.
Dark extreme outermost primary covert.
Dark tip to outer tail feather. T1 and T2 seem to be new compared to the rest of the tail feathers.
State of primary moult (two moult series).

The bird last seen flying out to the beach late last evening and flying south. It appeared to land a few hundred metres down the beach out of sight but I couldn't refind it even though there were quite a gulls, waders and a handful of Sandwich Terns there.
It was seen briefly again first thing this morning but hasn't been seen since although it rained for most of the day making things difficult. This will be the third Irish record following a tideline corpse found on 24th March 1954 on the North Bull Island, Co. Dublin and a bird seen briefly near Clonakilty, Co. Cork on 9th June 2009.

Obviously dragging the right leg.


Some staining evident on the bend of the wing due to the bird lying on sand.

Seamus Feeney the proud finder with the tern/gull flock on the sandbar in the background.


  1. Looks like a broken leg high up on the right femur ... doesn't look straight in the penultimate photo of the bird in a 'heraldic' pose.

  2. Great recording, in all forms, of the bird Dermot.

    The rain, yes, we were some of the unlucky and truly gripped-off ones to spend the day there in that, having dipped the bird by less than 3 hours - a pretty grim day all round.

    However, we'd anticipate seeing you again soon!