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Gale Force Tern – part II

On this particular occasion, the weather was cheerfully fresh but the skies were slating over. Two or three people had come and gone since I had arrived (within twenty minutes of the end of school, as usual), but at 4.30 they were now decidedly elsewhere. I remained – largely because I was happy, but, with the wind intensifying, also because of a Roseate Tern. The graceful seabird had been sighted earlier in the day, and as I’d never seen one before I decided to hang on in the hope that this one would be kind and turn up again for me.

The wind got stronger, then stronger still, so that it began to feel as though Hide A was doing its own bit of hanging on. The hide overlooks a large freshwater pool with tern rafts and mini inlets; a bank of brush, trees and lumps of bright green grass on the far side (home to a fox family) seemed distant. The waves whipped deliciously. The salt from the saline lagoon and Irish Sea in the west stung my lips. The heavens opened. Nothing had turned up by five, but maybe I would wait till the rain eased off to save myself a soaking.

The heavens decided to do “opened” with style. The houses nearest the Freeport, cheerily colourful and tantalisingly visible as they were, remained far away. There was thunder, quite possibly lightning – I can’t remember. The world was a storm.

Last week I’d seen a Little Tern from the Wirral over the hide in the bluest July skies, the sun on my skin. While the contrast with today was great, I cherished both the past experience and the present. Ensconced in the hide, I felt secure yet exhilarated.

The terns on the scrape steeled their feathers, battened down the hatches of their minds and set their faces like flint. Some movement occurred; immature Common Gulls came and went moodily. I noticed the appearance of a candidate for the role of Roseate Tern. The bill was dark – but sometimes Arctic and even Common looked that dark. It did look a little longer, though, and the bird perhaps even as elegant as a grumpy tern in a gale can look. The tail streamers seemed to extend further than a Common’s, but not by much, or even by further than wishful thinking might allow. Was it paler than those terns over there at a different angle to me? The legs stayed teasingly out of view from any position I cared to take, though perhaps they should have been visible if they were Roseate-length. Was it? Wasn’t it?

The tern briefly leapt into the arms of the wind before re-settling, leaving me none the wiser. The storm kept raging. After 45 minutes or so I started home.

The rain – the rain… it was absolutely torrential. The port road contains some quirky but not excessively large dips: in one of these, water stood easily over 2 feet deep. Even away from the middle, my pedals sheared along the surface as I ploughed through the mini-lake like a wildebeest up to its chest in Serengeti river, or maybe a strongman in a truck-pulling contest. I was drenched long before I reached home.

Having dried off, I settled down to a late meal and heard little old Crosby mentioned on the national weather – due to an extreme rainfall event, apparently. I could certainly vouch for that. I spent a few minutes feeling heroic, which only served to augment a generally very positive mood. The tern went onto my life list. It was downgraded to a question mark a few years later, but I’ve still never seen a genuine Roseate in a better light.


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