Recently I was espousing on the joys of having a ‘local patch’. I spoke about how doing a place frequently gives the real impression of migration…an awareness of birds leaving and arriving.
Well perhaps the local patch liked what I had to say!
Last evening was another one of those sunny moments along the coastal stretch from Newcastle Railway station to Five Mile Point further south. There was a slightly chilled wind coming in off the sea but the sun was shining.
Little Egret and Swifts
Over ECNR, Swifts were flying high while Sand and House Martins joined the Swallows in search of insects low over the fields. Offshore, there were lots of Little Terns and good numbers of Sandwich Terns just off the beach. On the beach itself, a small band of Turnstones was resting. It was lovely.
Walking south, I stopped to watch a Little Egret, resplendent in it’s long, wispy plumes of summer plumage. I am of the vintage that Little Egrets are still a novelty. I remember travelling to Cork to look at my first Irish Little Egret…that was back in 1980 and they were a real rarity back then. So I still can’t walk past one without looking at it.
What Is That?
I continued on and, half way between the two points, I stopped to look at another Little Egret in the pools on ECNR and stood enjoying the songs of a couple of Sedge Warblers. Then, from the reeds behind, I saw another Egret rise slowly and take to the air…it was huge…dwarfing the nearby Little Egret.
I put my bins up…this was as big as a Grey Heron. Big broad wings beat slowly, a long gangly neck took an age to tuck in as it began to fly. Those legs were long…very long. It was flying slowly…slowly enough for me to get my scope onto it. The bill was mostly dark but with a yellowish base. The legs were dull…not the black-legged, yellow-footed legs of Little Egret. A Great White Egret!!!!!
It flew slowly with languid wingbeats, rising into the air and headed off south past the row of houses at Five Mile Point. I watched in the scope as it seemed to drop into the extensive reedbeds between there and Killoughter. I followed but couldn’t relocate it. It was a beautiful bird to come across and so totally unexpected.
A Potential New Breeder?
I have been lucky enough to see up to six Great White Egrets in Ireland, including the first one ever recorded, in Sligo, May 1984. It was many, many years before another was found in Ireland. They are a species found across the world. In fact, I have been recently watching them in Brazil in Feb (where the above image was taken) and in South Africa in March. However, they are still very rare in Ireland and in Spring, can travel further north from their normal, southern breeding grounds. Of course, that is how Little Egrets reached Ireland and in recent years, their larger cousins are being seen more frequently. Perhaps in years to come, Great White Egrets will be as normal to see in Wicklow as Little Egrets are today!
As I walked back north again I was pondering all of this, and reflecting on how lucky I was to have seen this bird, when I heard a call…a Mediterannean Gull. Three gulls were flying south just above the beach. The lead bird was a pristine summer adult Med Gull, the second a 1st summer Black-headed Gull and the third bird was a second-summer Med Gull…my favourite plumage of all for these exquisite gulls. I have not seen Med Gulls on my local patch before…so they would have been the highlight were it not for the egret. Funny how the local patch throws two new birds at me in one evening.
The Simple Things In Life!
As I neared Newcastle again, three Little Egrets flew by me and, as they traveled by me, they became almost translucent against the lowering sun. I could see the bones of their wings as they passed. It was a perfect end to a lovely walk. As for Suzie the Springer Spaniel…well she wasn’t overly impressed by the Great White Egret. However, she did find a tennis ball on the beach and carried it proudly back to the car. We both agreed that it’s the simple things in life that are good.