Rare heron

Only sec­ond sight­ing of lit­tle egret

The Arran Banner - - Front Page - by Jim Cas­sels

On Fri­day Au­gust 4, I re­ceived an email in­di­cat­ing that there was a lit­tle egret in Whit­ing Bay on the shore op­po­site the pri­mary school. The sight­ing was con­firmed and the in­for­ma­tion put out on the ar­ran­bird­ing web­site.

This was to be the first of 10 such re­ports be­tween Fri­day Au­gust 4 and Mon­day Au­gust 7. Most of these were from the Sand­braes end of Whit­ing Bay but some were also from Clauch­lands in Lam­lash Bay. This was only the sec­ond record of lit­tle egret on Ar­ran. The first one, at Slid­dery Shore on Mon­day July 1 2013, did not hang around, but at least this lat­est one stayed for a few days, en­abling many to en­joy this pure white heron with black legs and yel­low feet hunt­ing in the shal­low pools on the shore.

The liveli­est hunters among the herons, they feed chiefly by walk­ing through wa­ter and snap­ping at prey, or by run­ning and ag­i­tat­ing the wa­ter with their feet to dis­turb prey. The ex­cel­lent pho­to­graphs by Nick Giles cap­ture the essence of the bird.

In breed­ing plumage it has a black bill with at­trac­tive white plumes on crest, back and chest. These plumes al­most led to its demise in west­ern Europe. At one time com­mon in west­ern Europe, it was hunted ex­ten­sively in the 19th cen­tury to pro­vide plumes for the dec­o­ra­tion of hats and be­came lo­cally ex­tinct in north-west­ern Europe and scarce in the south. Around 1950, con­ser­va­tion laws were in­tro­duced in south­ern Europe to pro­tect the species and their num­bers be­gan to in­crease. The birds also wan­der north in late sum­mer af­ter the breed­ing sea­son, and this ten­dency to dis­perse may have as­sisted in the re­cent ex­pan­sion of the bird’s range. By the be­gin­ning of the 21st cen­tury the bird was breed­ing again in France, the Nether­lands, Ire­land and Bri­tain

It first ap­peared in the UK in sig­nif­i­cant num­bers in 1989 and first bred in Dorset in 1996. Its col­o­niza­tion fol­lowed nat­u­rally from this range ex­pan­sion into west­ern and north­ern France in pre­vi­ous decades.

The map shows the win­ter records be­tween 2007 to 2011 from the na­tional bird at­las sur­vey con­ducted by the BTO and its part­ners.

This is hugely dif­fer­ent to the pre­vi­ous na­tional win­ter at­las con­ducted be­tween 1981 and 1984, when there was a grand to­tal of one record. The lit­tle egret is now at home on nu­mer­ous south coast sites, both as a breed­ing species and as a win­ter vis­i­tor. The pop­u­la­tion in­crease has been rapid, with over 750 pairs breed­ing in nearly 70 colonies in 2008.

They are colo­nial nesters, build­ing near wa­ter, in trees and bushes or some­times on rocks or cliffs. Colonies can range from a few nests up to a cou­ple of thou­sand, usu­ally in as­so­ci­a­tion with other herons, in­clud­ing the fa­mil­iar grey heron.

Fol­low­ing the first breed­ing record in Eng­land in 1996, the first in Ire­land was 1997, the first in Wales was 2002, but to date there is no con­firmed breed­ing in Scot­land. It is re­ally a bit strange that birds breed in Lan­cashire and North­ern Ire­land, but not yet in Scot­land - as far as is known.

In­deed Mark Holling of the Rare Breed­ing Birds Panel has put out a plea for any in­for­ma­tion on pos­si­ble breed­ing of lit­tle egret in Scot­land. The ex­pan­sion con­tin­ues and it can only be a mat­ter of time be­fore it is wide­spread in coastal and in­land wa­ter habi­tats in Scot­land, in­clud­ing Ar­ran. En­joy your bird­ing Please send any bird notes with ‘what, when, where’ to me at Kil­patrick Ken­nels, Kil­patrick, Black­wa­ter­foot, KA27 8EY, or email me at jim@ar­ran­bird­ing.co.uk I look for­ward to hear­ing from you. For more in­for­ma­tion on bird­ing on Ar­ran pur­chase the Ar­ran Bird At­las 2007-2012 as well as the Ar­ran Bird Re­port 2016 and visit this web­site www.ar­ran­bird­ing.co.uk

Photo by Nick Giles.

A lit­tle egret is pic­tured with its dis­tinc­tive black legs and yel­low feet.

Lit­tle egret win­ter dis­tri­bu­tion be­tween 2007 to 2011 from the na­tional bird at­las sur­vey con­ducted by the BTO and its part­ners.

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