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Bird Watching (UK) - - March Id Challenge -


Hope­fully, not too much of a poser to start with, this pho­to­graph isn’t even a sil­hou­ette, though the light is rather harsh, mask­ing some of the fea­tures. There is more than enough show­ing to make ID mod­er­ately straight­for­ward. It is an all-white plumaged bird with a ‘heron’-shape, so is one of the birds we call an egret. The long, dag­ger-like orange bill on a rel­a­tively small head is enough in it­self to clinch the ID. But there are other fea­tures worth con­sid­er­ing: the very long neck, for in­stance, has a dis­tinct, unortho­dox kink in it, which a (much shorter necked) Lit­tle Egret would never show. The legs are dark and so are the feet (Lit­tle Egrets have yel­low feet). There is plenty here to say that this is a Great White Egret.

KEY FEA­TURES †Tall, very long-necked white heron †Long-thin, dag­ger-like orange bill †’Kink’ in the long, thin neck †Dark legs and feet


Here we have our first bird in sil­hou­ette. Per­haps the first thing that you will no­tice is that it has a longish, down-curved bill. This im­me­di­ately rules out any of the true herons or Crane, which have straight bills. In­deed, any Euro­pean storks are also ruled our by this bill, as is the Spoon­bill, which has its own dis­tinc­tively spat­u­late bill. The bill may have you think­ing about Curlew or Whimbrel, which have sim­i­lar beaks. But those wings are too broad, the neck too long, and the strong legs and feet ex­tend too far be­yond the tail, and that rear toe is far too big for a true ‘wader’. There is, of course, an­other bird which fits the bill (ahem... if you will ex­cuse the pun). This bird is a Glossy Ibis, a bird which is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly fre­quent in the UK.

KEY FEA­TURES †Strik­ing down-curved bill †Quite broad wings †Ex­tended long neck †Strong legs and feet pro­trude a long way be­yond tail


At last a bird in ‘full colour’. This pale brown, yet well-marked bird is ap­par­ently fly­ing over reeds of the same colour as its plumage. It is quite a thick set bird, which could even re­call an owl or Buz­zard in the field, if it weren’t for that long, heron-like bill. The neck in par­tic­u­lar, looks short, but this is be­cause it is folded up in the typ­i­cally heron fash­ion, and the folds ‘dis­guised’ un­der feath­er­ing. So, a heron-like bird with well-marked plumage, in­clud­ing cryp­ti­cally pat­terned wings, a black crown and short black mous­tachial stripe. There is only one British bird which fits this de­scrip­tion, the Bit­tern. This is a typ­i­cal view you may be lucky enough to get of one tak­ing a brief re­lo­cat­ing flight be­fore dis­ap­pear­ing back into the reeds.

KEY FEA­TURES †Bird the ‘colours of a reedbed’ †Neck ‘re­tracted’ and con­cealed in feath­er­ing to look thick †Black crown and black face mark­ings †Well pat­terned and marked plumage


Thank­fully, an­other bird ‘in colour’, and judg­ing by the rel­a­tively small size of the head, this is a whop­per (fol­low­ing the rule of thumb: the (pro­por­tion­ately)smaller the head, the big­ger the bird). And the ex­tended neck makes you think it could be per­haps a Crane (or a stork). But an­other look at that neck sees it isn’t held in a com­fort­able ex­tended po­si­tion, but has kinks in it, sug­gest­ing it is just about to be re­tracted heron-style, af­ter all. Some­times herons do this just af­ter tak­ing off or be­fore land­ing. And surely there is too much m-shaped flex in those wings to fit with the gi­ant stiff wings of a Crane. The blue grey wings and back, the black-streaked white neck, the white head and black head plumes all ar­gue this is an adult Grey Heron.

KEY FEA­TURES †Neck ex­tended, un­like a typ­i­cal heron †Bowed wings †Very long legs †Bill, head and neck pat­tern and wing colours be­tray iden­tity


In con­trast with Bird 4, th­ese two fly­ing birds (in sil­hou­ette) ap­pear to be fly­ing with their necks stretched out in a nat­u­ral, ‘re­laxed’, rather than awk­ward, po­si­tion. So they are prob­a­bly not herons or egrets. In­deed, the flight style alone, as well as the bill, means we are prob­a­bly deal­ing with storks or Cranes here. Th­ese lat­ter two un­re­lated birds are both enor­mous and both fly in this way. How­ever, both Black and White Storks have longer, thicker-based bills than th­ese two in­di­vid­u­als have. The deeply ‘fin­gered’ wings (which are held pretty stiffly, rather than in the m-shape of a heron) and the very long legs all point to th­ese be­ing Cranes.

KEY FEA­TURES †Long straight neck held ex­tended †Rel­a­tively small head and bill †Deeply ‘fin­gered’ wings †Long legs ex­tend well be­yond tail


We fin­ish with yet an­other sil­hou­ette, or rather near-sil­hou­ette. Like Bird 5, there are very ob­vi­ous pri­mary ‘fin­gers’ for the wing tips, a sign of a very large, broad-winged bird which is ac­cus­tomed to soar­ing flight. The legs are long and strong. At the front end, the neck ap­pears to be in a ’half­way’ po­si­tion, nei­ther fully ex­tended or folded back (like a heron). How­ever, judg­ing by the dan­gling of the legs, this bird has just taken off or is com­ing into land. The bill is per­haps the big­gest clue, with a long pointed, straight bill which has a thick base, much larger than that of a Crane, or a heron. We have here the typ­i­cal struc­ture of a stork. The hint of white and black plumage con­firms this is a White Stork.

KEY FEA­TURES †Mas­sive ‘fin­gers’ for pri­maries †Long, ‘strong’ legs †Long, thickly based, pointed, straight bill †Hint of white and black plumage just show­ing through

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