(2091) Sterna albifrons saundersi.
THE BLACK-SHAFTED TERNLET.
Sterna saundersi Hume, Str. Feath., v, p. 324 (1877) (Karachi,. Sind) ; Blanf. & Oates, iv, p. 321.
Vernacular names. None recorded.
Description. In this race the upper parts are rather paler than in any of the others and the rump and upper tail-coverts are concolorous with the back and the tail nearly so; the shafts of the first three primaries are black, not white or brown, whilst the outer webs and inside of inner webs are blacker and contrast more strongly with the inner white margin; the bill is shorter and more slender than in either S. a. albifrons or S. a. sinensis.
Colours of soft parts. Iris brown; bill yellow or orange-yellow with a black tip; legs and feet yellowish-brown.
Measurements. Wing 156 to 170 mm.; culmen 27 to 29 mm., average 27.8 mm.; very slender.
Distribution. Southern coasts of Red Sea and Persian Gulf to the Somali coast in East Africa and Karachi in India.
Nidification. This Ternlet commences to breed in May but the majority do not lay until June, whilst many continue to lay up to the end of August; on the other hand, both Bethara and Vidal took eggs at the end of April. The birds breed on the sand-hills and shores from Karachi along the Mekran coast, often some way inland but the nests are so scattered that they can hardly be said to breed in colonies. Here and there ten or a dozen pairs may breed within a radius of half a mile but often one or two nests may be found far from any other. The nest consists of a scratching in the sand and Ticehurst says that a favourite site is a small sand-mound formed by some obstruction plant or other which catches the drift-sand. The normal clutch of eggs is two, sometimes one only and seldom three. The colour is remarkably constant, a pale sandy grey very lightly speckled or spotted with light brown. More boldly marked eggs or eggs with a deeper ground are exceptional and there is no variation in colour like that shown in the eggs of the other Ternlets. Eighty eggs (46 Ticehurst) average 21.7 x 23.6 mm.: maxima 34.0 X 25.5 mm.; minima 29.5 x 23.0 and 32.0 x 22.25 mm.
Habits. This bird is entirely a Sea-Tern and is found nowhere inland. It is a resident but moves locally with the supply of small fish and fish fry on which it feeds almost exclusively. Ludlow says that its call, though like that of the other races, is easily recognizable, though the difference is hard to explain.