Identification 

 
Rare Birds in Spain

Identification

The Elegant Tern, Sterna elegans at Llobregat Delta, Barcelona, April 1993

Discussion held in E-Mail list ID-Fontiers about the occurrence of the European records of Elegant Tern have brought back to interest the sole Spanish (and Mediterranean) accepted sighting of this species. A full account of this sighting was published in English in Dutch Birding 20: 1-5 (1998) and a brief note on the record in Spanish was published in La Garcilla 99: 26-27 (1997). See below for full references and links. For the sake of completeness, I include here a part of the original description of the bird plus two photos of the bird, one never published before. I strongly reccomend to read the whole DB article for a full discussion of this sighting.

Circumstances of sighting
Description


Circumstances of sighting

On 24 April 1993, an orange-billed tern was found by Ricard Gutiérrez and Oriol Muntané on a c. 1 ha flooded field in the Llobregat Delta, Barcelona, NE Spain (41º16'- 41º25'N, 1º58'-2º10'E). It was in the middle of a large group of other terns and gulls (c.190+ Sandwich Terns Sterna sandvicensis, +120 Black Terns Chlydonias niger, 2 Whiskered Terns Chlydonias hybridus, 3 Little Terns Sterna albifrons, +100 Little Gulls Larus minutus and some Black-headed Larus ridibundus and Mediterranean Gulls Larus melanocephalus). The tern was seen under optimal light conditions. It remained settled at a distance of c 20 m from us and was tentatively identified as Elegant Tern Sterna elegans, after discarding those similar species  we had experience with. It remained in the area until midday on 30 April, and at least ten observers were able to see it.

The observation of this Elegant Tern from 24-30 April 1993, was accepted as the 1st record of the species for Spain and the Mediterranean basin (de Juana y el CR-SEO 1997).


Elegant Tern Sterna elegans with party of Sandwich Terns S.sandvicensis. Llobregat Delta, Barcelona, NE Spain. 24 April 1993 © Ricard Gutiérrez. Note the shaggy crest and the downcurved long bill. 
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Charrán Elegante Sterna elegans con un grupo de Charranes Patinegros S.sandvicensis. Delta del Llobregat, Barcelona, Catalunya . 24 Abril de 1993 © Ricard Gutiérrez. Nótese la larga cresta y el pico curvado y largo. 
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Xatrac Elegant Sterna elegans amb un grup de Xatracs becllargs S.sandvicensis. Delta del Llobregat, Barcelona, Catalunya . 24 Abril de 1993 © Ricard Gutiérrez. Noteu la llarga cresta i el bec corbat i llarg. 
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Elegant Tern Sterna elegans with party of Sandwich Terns S.sandvicensis. Llobregat Delta, Barcelona, NE Spain. 24 April 1993 © Ricard Gutiérrez. In this photo it can be seen a detail that I had never recalled before: the lower mandible base is actually reddish, not uniformly orange as I thought (!). Besides, the bird was rather nervous all the time and it kept its crest erected, like in this shot, giving a shorter impression than its real length (see above photo)
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Charrán Elegante Sterna elegans con un grupo de Charranes Patinegros S.sandvicensis. Delta del Llobregat, Barcelona, Catalunya . 24 Abril de 1993 © Ricard Gutiérrez. En esta foto se observa un detalle en el que no me había fijado nunca (!): la mandíbula inferior tiene la base rojiza, no uniformemente naranja como se pensaba. Además, el ave estaba bastante nerviosa todo el tiempo y mantenía su resta erizada, como en esta foto, y daba la impresión de ser más corta de lo que realmente era (ved la foto de arriba).
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Xatrac Elegant Sterna elegans amb un grup de Xatracs becllargs S.sandvicensis. Delta del Llobregat, Barcelona, Catalunya . 24 Abril de 1993 © Ricard Gutiérrez. En aquesta foto s'observa un detall del qual no me n'havia  adonat fins avui !(): la mandibula inferior té la base vermellosa, no uniformement taronja com pensavem. A més, l'ocell estava força nerviós tot el temps i mantenia la cresta aixecada, com a l afoto, tot donant la impressió de que fos més curta del que realment era (vegeu la primera foto)
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Description

SIZE AND BUILD  Typical structure of the genus Sterna, with short legs, long bill and, in general, looking similar to Sterna sandvicensis. Size, from a certain distance not very different from Sterna sandvicensis, although observation through telescopes revealed it as slightly bigger, and notably bigger than the size we remembered of Sterna bengalensis or Sterna hirundo and smaller than Sterna maxima and, even more, than Sterna caspia. The folded wings were slightly longer than the tail length. Miquel Rafa (pers. comm.), in his 26.4. observation remarked that the bird seemed more graceful ("elegant") than the nearby sandvicensis, perhaps due to the proportions of tail and wings.

BARE PARTS  Orange bill with a yellower tip, notably more curved and longer than the nearby Sterna sandvicensis. The bill appeared longer than that of Sterna bengalensis we had seen in Llobregat and Ebro Deltas. All the bill (both mandibles) were down curved, forming a clearly visible arch that appeared as the bird's most prominent feature. Black legs, which seemed to be a little longer than those of sandvicensis. Eye seemed black. The bird was not ringed.

WING & UPPERPARTS  Lesser coverts, median coverts, greater coverts and mantle of exactly equal tone to Sterna sandvicensis (or at least, certainly not darker, as it occurs in bengalensis or hirundo). Coverts silvery grey, with a slightly whitish narrow outer edge. Primaries and secondaries were a little bit darker. The outer shaft of the 2nd primary at least was clearly dark, as in hirundo. The lower parts of the outer primaries were much darker in tone with patterning reminiscent of Sterna hirundo, but totally different from the dark patch on the wing of Sterna caspia.

HEAD  Glossy jet black cap, totally complete, including the eye. The black colour of the cap reached the bill at its junction with the forehead, with the exception of a small white central patch located over the bill, that might have been a remnant of winter plumage. The bird had an obvious crest, longer than that of nearby adult summer Sterna sandvicensis. White neck and face.

UNDERPARTS  Lower parts white.

TAIL  Tail and rump appeared white from above and below when the bird was flying. However,  after careful observation, it was noted that the white tone of the tail and rump was not as white as that of lower parts, and that it really had a very light and faint grey tone, lighter and in evident contrast to the mantle and wings. The tail was more forked than that of sandvicensis

BEHAVIOUR  The bird was resting in the middle of a group of Sandwich terns. Most of the time it was resting with its bill hidden in its upperparts. Unlike other terns, it was relatively motionless, except when a sandvicensis tried to land too close to it. Then it shown a certain aggressiveness, even adopting antagonistic poses, resembling that appearing in Harrison (1983: Seabirds ). Besides that, it did not indulge in any other noteworthy behaviour.

Ricard Gutiérrez 5.3.2001

References

Gutiérrez, R. 1998. Elegant tern in Llobregat delta, Spain in April 1993. Dutch Birding 20: 1-5.
Gutiérrez, R. & Muntané, O. 1997. Aves nuevas: Charrán Elegante Sterna elegans. La Garcilla 99: 26-27
de Juana, E. y el CR/SEO. 1997. Observaciones de aves raras en España. Año 1995. Ardeola, 44: 119-141.

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Thanks to Richard Martin for scanning the original slides. Gracias a Richard Martín por escanear las diapositivas originales. Gràcies a Richard Martin per escanejar les diapositives originals. 

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