Sunday, 6 November 2016

Incredible egrets

It's easy to forget how rare egrets were in the UK until relatively recently. I started birding in 1973 and it took until 1987 for me to see my first little egret in the UK, indeed I saw little whimbrel, Steller's eider, red-necked stint and Hudsonian godwit in the UK before my first little egret. By 1995 I'd still only seen four little egrets. Since then they have exploded, with now hundreds breeding in the UK, and 69 pairs this year alone at Burton Mere Wetlands, which has daily roosts of over 300 birds. Similarly there are now big numbers on the Ribble and in Morecombe Bay.

Great white egrets were slower to expand their range, but they too are now breeding in the UK. My first was in 1984, predating my first little egret by three years, but my fourth had to wait until 2007, just nine years ago!

From Burton Point on the Dee estuary today I counted an incredible 11 great white egrets, including eight together on this one pool. These birds were phone scoped at around a mile distant so it was very pleasing to also have a grey heron in the photo for a size comparison, but actually the long necks and yellow bills also make these great white, even at such a distance.

There's a little egret in this photo, which also makes for a good size comparison.

I seem to remember back in the 1980's, it was widely predicted that cattle egrets would be the next species to colonise the UK rather than the other two white egrets. That never fully materialised, and though they have undoubtably become more common, it took until last month for me to see more than a single bird in the UK, when I saw three cattle egrets at Marshside. Today I managed to go two better, with five birds showing well at Burton Mere Wetlands. Incredible! There are also five birds at Marshside now. With Burton Mere also holding a summering flock of 12 spoonbills this year, it's surely only a matter of time before some of these other fabulous birds join the little egret colony and start breeding.

Meanwhile out on Burton Marsh between Decca Pools and Denhall Quay, two hen harriers (including a stunning male), three marsh harriers (one pictured above in front of Flint castle) and a merlin.

Ten of the 12 spoonbills at Burton Mere Wetlands in August.

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