Thursday, 9 April 2015

Great Egrets Galore

It was not until the spring of 2012 that Great Egrets started to breed for the first time in Britain. Luckily for me this was almost on my doorstep at the Shapwick Heath nature reserve in Somerset. They are now a common sight in this area and you can confidently expect to see at least one each time you visit.

Yesterday, April 8th, there were a number of them giving a grand flying display in and out of the reeds. It was a photographers' dream! I knew I had to get lucky one day. Here are just a few of the shots I took.

This bird is, I believe, most correctly called a Great Egret, although common parlance seems to favour "Great White Egret", but this sounds a bit too much like Jaws to me. The scientific name is indeed Egretta Alba, so there may be justification for the more popular name - they certainly are big, white and egrets!

As with Herons, they have a particular form of display flight which involves holding the neck at odd angles and flying very slowly.

For most of the year Great Egrets are recognisable chiefly by their colour and large size of course. However, if size is not easily judged in some situations the bright yellow bill confirms the identification even at great distance. Not in the breeding season though!

At this time of year the bill turns black in breeding adults and the Lores, the bare skin between eye and bill, turns green. You can see that in the following blow-up from one of the shots.

The other thing that happens is that the "thigh" bones turn reddish. I had not known that until I examined my photos from yesterday.

Here are a few more shots of them doing their stuff.

But it was not just about Great Egrets yesterday. This was the first shot of the day, a Coot chasing off a Moorhen and making waves.

As I have said before, I can never resist a good Duck. So here is a Mallard descending to land,

and here is its mate.

Not to be left out in all the fuss about Great Egrets, here is a Grey Heron doing its display flight through the reed tops.

The noisiest resident of the reserve is certainly the Marsh Frog. When these get going in chorus you just have to put your fingers in your ears!

I have saved the best for last though. As I was following the Great Egrets flying display I spotted, way in the distance over Glastonbury Tor, the unmistakable silhouettes of two Common Cranes circling high in the sky. They never came very low, but did eventually drift overhead and I managed this shot as a record. An absolutely unmistakable outline.

So, I hope you will agree that I had a great day out on the Somerset Levels. I feel so lucky to live here.

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