Terning 200!

We were heading back home to Norfolk today after a very enjoyable sojourn in Scotland, and I had the absolute certainty that – having seen redstart yesterday – I would at least get my 199th species today, since we were planning to visit the tern colony at Long Nanny in Northumberland. However my reasons for wanting to visit this lovely area of coastal dunes was also because Brenda hasn’t been there yet and when I visited a couple of times last year I was determined that we would both go this year.

She wasn’t disappointed, and within minutes had seen several new flowers. More about those below. In fact by the time I saw my 199th species – one of the several hundred arctic terns that nest here – she had already seen six new plants, bringing her total to 188. So in the end it’s been a very close run thing!

arctic tern

However my prize bird appeared just as we got to the path down to the rangers hut at the tern colony. And what a bird – a black tern. The only one here and with a very interesting story: In the summer of 2020 a black tern began associating with the arctic terns in the colony. Black terns are marsh terns and not really associated with coastal colonies at all – and certainly not in the breeding season. Eventually various local birders began to wonder about where it had come from and several photos seemed to point to it being the sub-species Chlidonias niger surinamensis (the European black tern is Chlidonias niger niger). Once this was confirmed it was clear that this tern was American! The American sub-species is hardly ever seen in the UK and this was actually the first record of a summer plumage bird!

As you might imagine this caused quite a stir in the birding world! And then in 2021 it visited the same colony again! I saw it in June of 2022 on one of my journeys up to Scotland. A fabulous bird. And now it’s back again. A very strange life as the arctic terns won’t cross-breed with it and it’s several thousand miles from where it should be. We’ll probably never know how it cane to regard the Long Nanny tern colony as its summer home.

In any event it was a great bird to have as my 200th species for 2023!

black tern (American sub-species)

Whilst Brenda was identifying yet more flowers I got nice views of a kestrel hovering over the dunes, and then it was time to continue our journey home to Wells-next-the-Sea.


When we were heading back to the car I also saw a garden tiger moth caterpillar (apparently they are known as wooly bears!).

We did make a car charging stop at Gateshead, where they have put some chargers in the car park for the Angel of the North, which I always enjoy seeing.

Brenda writes: “And so it was time to head home. It has been interesting observing how the season develops further north. Whilst in some respects we were revisiting spring, surrounded by bluebells, in others it was only a couple of weeks behind. On the way home we had a stop at a wonderful reserve on the coast. Steve wanted to show me the rich sand dune habitat stuffed with wild flowers but, whilst I did indeed add six new species to my list, he only needed two and number 200 was, as mentioned above, magnificent, an American black tern.

So he won the race to 200 species, but I will overtake him quite soon!

I was pleased with the new flowers today. Crosswort could be mistaken for lady’s bedstraw but the plant construction is different, the crosswort’s tiny yellow flowers arranged in whorls along the stem.


Red bartsia has pale pink flowers growing from the base of leaves which are often purplish. The book says it is semi-parasitic.

red bartsia

The flower of purple milk vetch looks a bit like red clover but it is dark purple and hugs close to the ground.

purple milk vetch

The star today, however, was bloody cranesbill which grows bush-like, a splash of colour on the dunes.

bloody cranesbill

Rough hawkbit and slender thistle, a small thistle with pale purple flowers, completed my haul.

As we drove south I expected to see things I hadn’t seen flowering further north, but only added two to my list, creeping thistle and ragwort.

creeping thistle

New species for June 10th:
Birds: arctic tern, black tern
Flowers: crosswort, red bartsia, purple milk vetch, bloody cranesbill, rough hawkbit, slender thistle, creeping thistle, ragwort