Ben Springer has reported hundreds of banded terns and gulls to the U.S. Geological Survey.
But, he wasn’t prepared for the notice he received on a Royal Tern he spotted at Point Patience at the Solomon’s Navy Recreation Center this past July.
“I just got a band return for one of the Royal Terns I reported this summer and he’s 30 years old, banded in 1993!” Springer texted me when he received notification from the USGS. “That’s only six months younger than the oldest ever known.”
Springer’s Royal Tern Number 174-29837 169 was banded as a nestling in 1993 before it could even fly, according to the certificate USGS sent Springer. It was banded July 9, 1993, at Rhodes Point in Accomack County, VA. Thats about 34 miles, as the tern flies, from where Springer photographed it this July 12.
The year the Royal Tern hatched Nelson Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Beanie Babies first hit the market, gasoline was $1.16 a gallon, Bill Clinton took office as President and Ben Springer had not yet been born.
Springer, who is vice president of Southern Maryland Audubon and is a senior at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, surveys for banded terns as part of an internship he’s had for three years at Naval Air Station Patuxent River.
“This one was in a flock with some other terns and gulls,” said Springer. “There was a flock on the point most days and I would go out to get band numbers. Most of the time new birds would be there each day I went out.”
Royal Terns stand out with their brilliant tangerine orange bill and racy black crest against a snowy white head.
Springer tucked his camera under his t-shirt and straddled a paddle board with a kayak paddle to get close enough to the birds to photograph the small silver bands on their legs. His 30-year-old tern was one of 21 Royal Terns he identified that day.
Springer estimated he has reported about 120 banded Royal Terns and 130 Common Terns this year. But, in the bird world, No. 174-29837 169 stands out as true royalty.
Photo by Ben Springer. Story by Molly Moore