The Black-naped and the Roseate Tern

I never had an interest in birds, but since I saw a white-bellied sea eagle near Shek Kwu Chau I have become interested at least in the big raptors. But there are also a lot of seabirds that form part of the ocean ecosystems even in Hong Kong.
And on a recent ferry ride in South Lantau I was treated to a great spectacle of 2 beautiful species of seabirds, the Roseate Tern (Sterna dougallii) and the Black-naped Tern (Sterna sumatrana).

I only had my smartphone with me so I shot this slow-mo footage of the terns ducking and diving behind the ferry and occassionaly plunge-diving into the water at high speed and then flying up again with small fish in their beaks.

Along for the ferry ride were three birders with huge telezoom cameras and I thought at the time “I bet these guys are with the HK Bird Watching Society. I must check their forum page later to see if they post the images…” – I haven;t found them yet, but in the meantime I found these stunning images on th HKBWS Forum which are well worth a look.

The Black-naped Tern has white forehead and crown with black nape extending through the eyes. It is an oceanic bird mostly found in tropical and subtropical areas of the Pacific and Indian Oceans and rarely found inland. It frequents small offshore islands, reeds, sand spits and rocky cays, feeding in atoll lagoons and close inshore over breakers, but sometimes also far out at sea. The diet is mainly small fish and they will almost always forage singly by shallow plunge-diving or surface-diving. The breeding season varies depending on locality, usually forming small colonies of 5 to 20 pairs, but sometimes up to 200 pairs. Colonies are often formed on unlined depression in the sand or in gravel pockets on coral banks close to the high tide line. In Hong Kong It can be seen over the sea and aroundcoastal areas in the summer.

The Roseate Tern has white underparts with pink, red bill and legs. It is a cosmopolitan species occurring all the way from the Atlantic coast of Ireland to Australia, although it is split into 3 races by geographical areas. In Hong Kong it can be seen over the sea and around coastal areas of northeastern and southern waters in the summer. According to the WWF, the Roseate Tern is now a rare visitor to Hong Kong with only 10-20 terns coming to Hong Kong, so it seems I was quite lucky to see some of them!

During the summer months from May to September, the Roseate Tern, the Black-naped Tern and the Bridled Tern regularly come to breed on the small and remote rocky islands in eastern and southern of Hong Kong waters. In the last 10 years between 2001 and 2010, summer population of the 3 tern species at these breeding sites ranged at 270 to 990, or 570 on average.

There are a lot of keen bird-watchers in Hong Kong, so there is no shortage of information and photographs of terns in Hong kong on the web, so if you are interested in finding out more about these birds, have a look at:

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