IMPORTANCE OF AGEING AND SEASONALITY
The Q&A letters sent to Bird Watching often feature some of our commonest birds, but in a slightly ‘different’ plumage. For instance, one of the most frequent ‘problem birds’ is the juvenile Starling, which is plain grey-brown with a pale throat and dark lores. It is illustrated in most feild guides, but may not stand out on the page like the familiar, easily-skippedover adult Starling. Similarly, herons in the ‘wrong’ plumage can throw the unwary birder. Even egrets, which we tend to think of as all white, can vary with age and season. Breeding plumage Cattle Egrets have much more yellow-orange in their plumage and the bill and lores change from yellow to pinky-red. Similarly, the Great White Egret (see photos above), which is becoming increasingly familiar as a British bird, is well known for its long yellow, dagger-like bill. But in breeding ‘plumage’ the bill becomes dark, looking like a huge Little Egret. Grey Herons are much greyer as juveniles, Purple Herons, much browner. And only fully adult Night Herons (scarce visitors to the UK) have the black crown, blue-black back and clean grey wings. Study fieldguides and look at photos online to get fully familiar with the less obvious plumages of herons. This is particularly important when looking at a bird which may be rare; especially as wanderers are often younger birds.