Roving Reporter | "There's a Sooty Tern in Town" | by Jeanette Larson

Photo Credit: Leann Schroller



Birders call birds that show up in areas where they don't normally belong vagrants, or accidental birds. Vagrants always cause a lot of excitement. Local birders started to hear about two Sooty terns at Rockport Beach on June 10. Immediately word went out through various electronic mailing lists, on Facebook, and through eBird, an online resource where bird sightings are compiled. Once the word went out, birders from around the state flocked (sorry!) to Rockport hoping to catch a glimpse of a bird normally seen only in the Caribbean, the Dry Tortugas, Hawaii, and the coast of western Mexico. Many, like the birders from Dickinson and Dallas pictured here, spent a lot of time looking but never spotted the Sooty tern. (They did get to see the Royal tern baby and many other birds that made it worth the trip.)

Sooty terns are true seabirds, wandering the tropical oceans and nesting on islands (unlike most other terns that live in marshes and along seashores). It is largely pelagic, meaning it lives at sea, and comes ashore only to breed. According to eBird, this month the only sightings for a Sooty tern were in the Rockport area and in Florida. It's difficult to know what brings a vagrant to town. Weather disturbances and winds may blow the bird off course, a bird may hitchhike on a ship or boat, or scientists think some may just like to wander, possibly following food sources. Whatever the reason they come, the vagrants bring even more birders to our already very birdy community. Like other tourists, they don't stay long. - Jeanette Larson


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Jeanette is a retired librarian and author. She and her husband, retired architect and artist Jim Larson, moved to Rockport several years ago for the birds, the beach, and the coastal community.


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