In mid summer Brownsea Island is one of the best places in the country to see sandwich terns (Sterna sandvicensis). There are scattered colonies elsewhere in the British Isles but here in Dorset they nest right in front of the hides on the Brownsea Lagoon.
Although yet another white sea bird with a black head the sandwich tern is much more streamlined than a gull. It is a fishing bird that dives in to the shallow sea for small fish (mainly sand eels) and is usually seen in flight patrolling the sea just off shore; you will never see one swimming on the water. At first they can be difficult to separate from the more numerous common tern but with practice you can tell they are a bit larger and have a black bill rather than red. When on the ground their untidy array of sticking out head feathers is also diagnostic. Along with common terns they can be seen around Poole Harbour and along the sandy beaches of Studland and Swanage.
They are very noisy birds and quite bad tempered, quite readily squabbling amongst each other and using dreadful language! They nest close together on stony or sandy islands in shallow areas of water and the close proximity of their neighbours leads to these disputes.
They are summer migrants arriving towards the end of April and setting off back south in September.