Friday, 2 December 2016

Cattle Egret - second for Surrey

Fate plays such a role in our birding endeavours - and today was such an example. I wasn't actually going anywhere with my bins this morning, as domestic chores beckoned. However, a last minute reprieve saw me with a couple of hours to spare, so I ran out the door and decided to just walk the ten minutes or so to Priest Hill SWT reserve on the Ewell/Banstead border. That was lucky break number one...

Last Friday when visiting the site I had come across a small flock of Reed Buntings, and was keen to relocate them. My plan was to make one slow circuit of the largest meadow before heading back home. When half-way round I bumped into an old work-colleague who was walking her dog, so then found myself continuing on the loop, deep in conversation and not really birding at all. When I reached the end of the circuit (and my work-colleague had left for home) I decided to retrace my steps as I hadn't really given the area a good grilling. That was lucky break number two...

On my second circuit I relocated the Reed Buntings (now five birds including a male) plus a female Stonechat. That was good enough for me to consign the brief trip a success. With thoughts of lunch my mind went into neutral, but after a few minutes of aimless wander a glance up into the sky quickly shook me awake - a small, all-white egret was flying steadily westwards, at a moderately low elevation. Bins were raised, and my first look had me incredulous. This was not the expected Little Egret, but a Cattle!

The dumpy, wrap-necked, jowly bird then turned northwards and cut diagonally across me, giving superb views. The trailing legs were shorter than a Little, and with the large feet were a uniform mid-grey. The bill, shorter and proportionately thicker than a Little, was orangey-yellow in colour. The flight comprised shallow wing beats which were a more hurried than a Little. I was transported back to Majorca where I watched this species regularly over ten days during this summer - not to forget a confiding bird at Dungeness last month. This is apparently the second record for Surrey, following a single bird at the London Wetland Centre in 2001.

After the bird had gone, and the news 'tweeted' out, I realised that I had not even thought about getting a record shot with the camera (that was in the rucksack). I'm pleased that I didn't as it would have disrupted and spoilt what was a totally unexpected and special few moments of birding. I have always thought that the open skies, relative height and excellent vision here at Priest Hill would provide the odd good flyover, although Cattle Egret would not have been high up on my predictive list.

14 comments:

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  2. Top man!!! Brilliant find, I'm well pleased for you mate :)

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  3. Unless it flew over Epsom Common in which case I hate you forever...

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  4. I'd call that a serendipitous find, because it then allows me to get one of my favourite words into a comment. Nice one!

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  5. Thank you all for your congratulations - you'll have noticed that I hadn't set the bar too high what with finding a large, obvious species. I looked the other way when the Blyth's Pipit flew over... :-)

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    1. That's enough of that Dave - get back to counting your rare seabirds!!

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    2. I was going to do a longer one but couldn't work out how to get sprite in! 83 so far, might just get to the 100 but probably not

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  7. Don’t you just love those kind of experiences. You weren’t even going to put a foot outside the front door and there you are with a Cattle Egret to your name! A great read, and congratulations Steve!

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    1. Thanks Lucy. Hope all is well up there in Hertfordshire.

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  8. The absolute essence of patch birding! What a fantastic moment to experience on a whim - I really am very happy for you, so much more enjoyable than one someone else has discovered. It was Barry Matlock who said to me, after I'd stumbled upon a Little Bunting on my way home from work. You don't find them - they find you! As weird as it sounds, I know exactly what he meant! Congratulations mate, nice one - Dyl

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    1. Thanks Dyl, and I have said exactly the same as Barry in the past.

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