Saturday, February 23, 2008

Cattle Egret

I hadn't long awoken when I gazed bleary-eyed out of my bedroom window at 7:45 this morning and noticed something white pass between the houses flying over the sheep field just to the east. Must have been a gull I thought, although it looked rather like an egret. But what would a Little Egret be doing low over the sheep field. I'd seen one before from the house but that was following the river. It then passed between another two houses and I got another brief glimpse, this time through bins. My slowly waking brain registered a definite egret but surely those legs looked too short and all dark, no yellow feet certainly, and the whole impression was of a more compact bird. The plumage looked a bit off-white as well and, although I didn't see it well, the bill looked rather pale and stubby. Surely this was a Cattle Egret but could I claim such a huge local rarity from my bedroom window on such brief views? I tried to follow where it went but did not see it again from the house.

There was nothing for it but to get out there and start looking. I got out in the car as quickly as I could and started searching all the fields to the west. Fotheringhay, Nassington, Yarwell, Wood Newton revealed few fields with livestock and none had any egrets but I'd noticed a field near Fotheringhay that couldn't be seen well from the road. After an hour or so I came home for a break and to consult a map. The field I wasn't able to see earlier appeared to have a footpath running quite close by so I decided to nip out there and give that try. Only half way along the footpath to the Park Lodge farmhouse I noticed the bird sat with the sheep and lambs at a feeding station in the corner of the field nearest the road. The long shot had paid off and my initial ID confirmed. I couldn't believe my luck.

I snapped off a couple of record shots and started ringing out the news. While I waited it became clear why I hadn't seen it from the road before. The bird was moving between two fields, and prefering the one not visible from the road. It was rather jumpy as was being bullied around by the lambs at times. After a while the first birders started arriving: Mike Weedon and family were the first followed by Kevin Du Rose and Josh Jones. Some Northants birders also arrived a bit later just as it took a long high flight off the west before coming back at 11:30. I left shortly after and the last report was at about noon. There were no further sightings despite searches of the surrounding area over the next day or so.

This is the first BB rarity I've found, it is the 2nd or 3rd for the PBC area, 5th or 6th for Cambridgeshire (which is where it was when it flew past my bedroom window) and only the 2nd for Northamptonshire. It is also my 231st bird and 204th find for the PBC area and the 103rd species to be seen from my house.

This bird in the news:

Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis

Digiscoped with Canon Powershot A640 and Leica APO77 x20

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