Common Tern, Bristol

Floating Harbour, Bristol
Floating Harbour, Bristol

A headline more startling than most I’ve written. It beats additions to the life list, which are still relatively frequent. The reason? What the hell is a seabird doing in the centre of a major conurbation?

Yes, there’s water – just like any inland river or lake. Terns do show at larger bodies of those. Chew, Blagdon and even Arrow Valley in Redditch spring to mind. But they have nesting and roosting possibilities and nothing like the hazards that Bristol presents.

The bird must have been on its, late, way through. Migration has been somewhat delayed this year, thanks to March’s persistent easterlies. This week’s gales may also have displaced the tern (isn’t wind becoming ever-present?) Even so, quite how it found the thin strip of the Floating Harbour from the surrounding urban desert is… startling.

I hadn’t been drinking – honest. Just a pint of Gem at the excellent Lion Tavern in Cliftonwood before dropping down to Hotwell Road. Maybe the change of altitude was causing hallucinations. I certainly had to double-take as the tern fluttered to within 20 feet of me. Logic kept dictating that it had to be a black-headed gull. But no, at that distance it was unmistakable and even distinguishable from arctic tern.

That’s this weekend’s headline. Last weekend saw my yearly Quantocks visit. A loop up Hodder’s Combe and back down Frog Combe eventually yielded two pied flycatchers. However, actually seeing a cuckoo fly to the crown of a tree and call for several minutes topped them. I haven’t seen a cuckoo for three years and my only Somerset sighting goes back to 1999 at Chew.

Displaying stonechats, a handsome redstart and sparring ravens were also noteworthy. As was a £6.50 cream tea at the Combe House Hotel. Oh well, you’re only young once.

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