Many of you may have noticed the rapid spread of Little Egrets through the country in past years. I remember well, dashing off to a WWT site in Northern Ireland where the first few of these tropical-looking birds visited Strangford Lough a few years ago, and now they are to be found throughout much of the North. This, it seems is an indication of climate change, global warming and what the compilers of the Bird Atlas show as a general shift of species from south east moving north west. This is great news for birds and their watchers in the south east, where increasing numbers of rare species are turning up, but not so good for north-western birds with nowhere left to go.
Here on Wallasea Island, Little Egrets are a common sight as they lift on approach from their feeding along our ditches and creeks, or wade around the mud of the Allfleet's Marsh. But this week, keen eyed birders spotted a bigger brother - a great white egret. As the name suggests, a large, white heron. Great white egrets can look similar to little egrets, but they are a more impressive size - the same size as the familiar grey heron, of which we have several families about the island. Other identification features to look out for include black feet (not yellow), yellow beak (in juvenile and non-breeding plumage), and a different fishing technique like that of the grey heron.
Expanding populations in Europe mean that this species is now seen more frequently in the UK - it can turn up in almost any part of the country, with most in south-east England and East Anglia. Great white egrets favour all kinds of wetland habitats - even farmland ditches can attract them - and they are most likely to be seen during spring and winter.Like the herons, they eat fish, insects and frogs, caught by spearing with its long, sharp beak. Like the heron family, this bird breeds in extensive areas of reeds, usually by large shallow lakes or fishponds. As they are partially migratory and dispersive,most european birds migrate to North Africa and the Middle East (especially Israel) but they are also wintering in increasing numbers around the Adriatic and even in Holland.
If you are heading to Wallasea for a spot of birdwatching, it is not just the wetlands worth watching at the moment. Hundreds of corn buntings are among the farmland birds who usually winter elsewhere, but have decided our Wild Bird Cover area ( near the farm) is a good spot to stay in. Birds of prey including short-eared owls, barn owls,harriers,and yesterday a buzzard, have also been seen hunting close by. So don't just drive by on your way to the seawall - pause and take in this excellent addition to the project and see what you can spot!
Many thanks to Jeff Delve for providing this great image of the great white being escorted by his little egret cousins!