2 Arctic Terns in Metro Van - A Great Day Out On The Water!

Young birder Bridget and her dad Keith asked me to go out on their boat with them for our annual boat trip yesterday. We traveled past Wreck Beach past Iona's south jetty and came across a small group of Terns. As the boat approached closer we could see they were Common Terns and almost immediately we noted how short two of the birds legs were compared to the other Terns. Also the bills were much stubbier. Also we noted how dark the body of the adult was compared to the paler Common Terns. One of the other short-legged birds was a juvenile.We could not believe our eyes that we were looking at an adult and juvenile Arctic Tern in Vancouver!. The juvenile was begging like crazy from the adult and we got some good recordings. You can listen to the juvenile begging to the adult below:

They were very tame and let the boat approach them quite close for some phenomenal photographs!. This was only the second Arctic Tern I had ever seen in Metro Vancouver. The last one was off the south jetty at Iona. We got to see both of them fly and got pictures of the diagnostic under-wings as well. The juv was lacking the secondary carpal bar as in juv Common Tern.  By the way did you know that Arctic Terns migrate from the arctic where they breed to spend the winter in Antartica and flies about 40,000 kms! It is the farthest yearly journey of any bird which is just incredible!

Adult and Juv Arctic Terns in Richmond - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Note the wing pattern (lack of secondary bar) on this juvenile Arctic Tern - Photos Ilya Povalyaev

Common Tern in Richmond - Photo: Bridget Spencer

Note how short the legs are on the Arctic Tern -Photo: Melissa Hafting

Was hard to leave these cute Terns! - Photo: Melissa Hafting

After leaving the 2 Arctic Terns we saw a Parasitic Jaeger being dive-bombed by some Caspian Terns. It was so unusual because usually you see Jaegers harassing Common Terns or Bonaparte's Gulls guess the tables had turned!.

Caspian Tern harassing a Parasitic Jaeger in Richmond - Photo: Ilya Povalyaev   

We then continued on to Sand Heads Jetty last year we had seen some Rhinoceros Auklets in this area but not this time. An Osprey was sitting on the lighthouse and quite a few Surf Scoters were around. We traveled down the jetty and saw a California and Steller's Sea Lion, some Brandt's Cormorants and Black Turnstones and not 1 but 2 Heermann's Gulls!. We were really stoked seeing such cool year birds in great weather.

Osprey at Sand Heads Jetty in Richmond - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Brandt's Cormorant in Richmond - Photo: Melissa Hafting

2 different Heermann's Gulls in Richmond - Photos: Melissa Hafting

We decided to go on to the Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty hoping to get lucky with a Wandering Tattler or something. When we got to the ferry jetty we saw some Brandt's Cormorants and Black Turnstones, Pigeon Guillemot and Sanderling. However, the best bird was an adult Heermann's Gull that anyone from land could easily see with a scope. Quite a few birders came out and got it, which was awesome! 

Adult Heermann's Gull in Delta - Photo: Bridget Spencer

On the way back to shore in Vancouver we saw some Harbour Porpoises, over 40 Common Terns and some Western Grebes and we ran into our 2 little Arctic buddies. The baby was begging away from the adult. I wonder where they bred are they the ones that bred off Vancouver Island or up in the Chilcotin. Guess we will never know.

Juv Arctic Tern begging from adult Arctic Tern in Richmond - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Bridget shooting the Arctic Terns and above with her dad on our way home - Photos: Melissa Hafting

A truly spectacular and fun day with good friends and unexpected finds out on the water!. Thank you also to Keith for being such a great captain!.


  1. what a cool trip you had full of great rarities mel. your shots are fabulous thank you for sharing with us as always.

  2. I'm glad you had a great day out on the water and great finds!

  3. i am so glad you and bridget had such a great time out on the water wish i could have joined you guys. your photos are stunning as usual. great finds i do love the tiny feet on those terns as well.

  4. Awesome set of pictures and I can just imagine the excitement! Congrats and thanks for sharing the set of photos!

  5. People have been seeing some arctic terns in the Puget Sound down near seattle the past few days -- I wonder if it is the same two birds!

    1. that is so cool greg! would be so cool if it is those 2 same birds. is one a juvenile?

    2. I'm not sure -- sadly I didn't get to see them. There should be some photos on ebird from Dumas Bay (in South King County). :)


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