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Unexplained Egret

After an afternoon visit to Amble Marshes on 16th March 2013 I returned to my car parked at Trewornan Bridge at around 17:20, I had placed my camera in the boot of my car when I noticed two Egrets flying towards me, appearing to follow the line of the Camel river towards the Camel Estuary, this normally happens about this time of day with Little Egrets returning from feeding to roost at several favourite roosting sites. Although when first spotted the two Egrets were still some distance away (approximately in line with the Walmsley Sanctuary, Tower Hide) interestingly one of them appeared to be larger than the other, being fully aware that we see very little size difference among the many Little Egrets frequenting the estuary I initially considered a possible Great White and had plenty of time to retrieve my camera in time to take several images of the larger individual approaching, even through the camera viewfinder I could see that the bird was not a Great White!

Appearing to show a pinkish black tipped bill and all dark legs and feet. It was only after the two birds had flown over did it dawn on me the necessity to try and obtain an image of both birds in flight together, the plain fact is, even if I had been prepared I’m pretty sure this would have been impossible given the 300 lens with 1.4 extender on my camera at that time, in such an event you just consider yourself lucky to secure any usable images. All I can say for sure is that the smaller of the two Egrets was a Little Egret showing all black bill, legs and yellow feet. On returning home I eagerly viewed the images on my computer, most appeared to be reasonably sharp for the dull weather conditions at the time, helping to confirm the bare part colouration that I had seen in the field. I have a copy of “The Herons Handbook” a brilliant little book by James Hancock and James Kushlan, with some terrific paintings by Robert Gillmor and Peter Hayman, this quickly pointed me to the (nonbreeding all white phase) of the American polymorphic species “Reddish Egret” Egretta rufescens, however unlikely the solution might appear it still represents the best likeness to the individual seen at Amble Marshes. It would be highly improbable for a white morph Reddish Egret to cross the Atlantic from the Gulf of Mexico, although I would think, not impossible. David Sibley states in “The North American Bird Guide” that “White morph birds represent 2 to 7 percent of the total. Pacific population is all dark”. The other possibility is of an escapee from a bird collection, or some sort of hybrid, although so far I have failed to find any evidence of any Reddish Egrets in captivity.

C Selway

Egret at Amble Marshes, 16/3/13, C Selway
Egret at Amble Marshes, 16/3/13, C Selway
Egret at Amble Marshes, 16/3/13, C Selway
Egret at Amble Marshes, 16/3/13, C Selway

March 27th 2013 update by Colin Selway;

I’m continuing to look for this Egret around the Camel while researching the seasonal variation in Reddish bare-parts, with the advantage of having all the high resolution images of the Amble bird. I have an image of the wing that shows the 11 primaries with p8 and p9 the longest (as Little Egret) and p10 much abraded at the tip perhaps suggesting an immature? It could well be that a Reddish wing differs enough to rule it out, although at this stage I think that after sifting through and comparing  endless Reddish images, the most important feature of all it’s ‘structure’ rules  a Reddish out of the frame, no real surprise I suppose. Reluctantly I have to fall back to on ‘some sort of Hybrid’ I still can’t force this one into a ‘odd Little Egret box’ it’s size and dark feet being the main stumbling blocks for me.

Egret Sp. phbotograph of wing formula, Amble Marshes, C Selway
Egret Sp. photograph of wing formula, Amble Marshes, 16/3/13, C Selway

A Birdforum discussion on this bird can be found here.

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8 thoughts on “Unexplained Egret

  1. I saw and photographed a white Heron just like yours at Ham Wall NR yesterday. It was stalking a Little Egret through the reeds which was keeping its distance. It was twice the size of the LE. I only photographed it when it was flushed by a passing Osprey. I had tweeted it as a Great White then realised the colouring on the bill and legs was all wrong. My pic is poorer quality than yours but if you email me I shall send you it.

      1. Before the Bird flew I saw colour rings but they must have been on left leg as they don’t show in pic. I think they may have been red and orange but windy conditions made it difficult to see.

    1. Thanks Derek. I wodered if that was the case but I hadn’t checked an ID book and I’ve only seen summer plumaged.
      Regards, Gavin

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