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Tern at Bowdoin NWR

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Saturday we ventured north to Bowdoin NWR in northern Montana. It's the first time we've been there, and it was amazing! The volume of birds is really overwhelming, and as we drove almost six hours there and six home in the same day, we stretched our birding time as much as we could. Hoping to go back again this Saturday. The gulls, terns and shorebird variety is just amazing. Find of the day was a Black-bellied Plover in breeding plumage. I also managed to snap a few terns, and my local (Wyoming) ebird reviewer, who is really top notch with ID, said Forster's. Another fellow came along with this comment:

This actually looks suggestive of an Arctic Tern. Gray underparts, thin, small bill, and narrow trailing edge on the underside of the wings. Are there any additional photos? Arctic Terns are occasionally reported at Bowdoin in summer. I was up there in 1998 when Steve Dinsmore and I found (mostly Steve) found Arctic Terns nesting at this NWR. (Joel Jorgenson)
I don't have any other photos that are any more help, or from this same group of terns and area, but I thought I would put it up for opinions.
Thank you!


Edited by okaugust
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Disclaimer: I have no experience with Arctic Tern (dipped on it several times), but here's my two cents. The bill and feet are a bit longer than I'd like for Arctic- perhaps it is just instinct, but I like Common here- I've found they have an elegance and petiteness that Forster's does not have, but not to the extent of Arctic.

Edited by Benjamin
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Okay, I'll go all in. 🙂

This one was from a the same group, about three that came over.


Also from that group




Three photos of this same group where the photo quality is poorer. I cropped them too.







Those three were on the NW end of the lake, the first boat ramp along the auto tour route after leaving the visitor's center.

These were on the south side of the lake, third section of the route (15 miles).






I think we are going back this weekend, camping overnight at Charles M Russell to get an earlier start, and explore there as well. As mentioned, Bowdoin is amazing, and there are 1000s of terns and gulls and shorebirds. It's pretty overwhelming trying to look at everything at once. I would love to have a focus, but I love them all.

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@blackburnian I'm way out of my league here as I've not seen any of the rarer terns, but the fact that we can clearly see a dark trailing edge on the top of the primaries rules out Roseate with certainty, no? From what I know, if the first six photos are of the same bird, this is a classic Common Tern. Well defined dark tips on primaries from above and below = definitely not Forster's, long legs + long neck rules out Arctic. Notice the transparent windows on the wings below the black tips, and I'm seeing a dark outer web on the first photo of the second batch.

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