As the sun started to dip below the horizon I got into position, up against a large sallow bush overlooking the egret roosting site. After several days of buffeting wind it had finally abated, and in the stillness each group of bushes had a swirl of gnats above, as if they were quietly smouldering. Noise levels abated and I waited, careful not to move or breathe too heavily. Not dissimilar to taking a seat in an auditorium waiting for the show to begin, expectant, impatient, senses heightened. The warm-up act was a band of Starlings that entered stage right, put on a few aerial manoevers before being joined by others, each pass made with a 'whoosh' of wings before they ditched down into vegetation, finally silent, seemingly anticipating the main act. The house lights had dimmed and the curtain was about to be raised.
The first to arrive was a Little Egret, which, after circling the roost decided not to enter alone and settled on a small island. It stood motionless waiting for direction. A second soon came and pitched alongside, also too nervous to roost solo. The first Great White had no qualms about being alone and flew straight in. This was quickly followed by the 'star' performer, a Cattle Egret, that had the decency to arrive while the light was still good and without the confusion of Littles alongside. Within 15 minutes the cast had mostly appeared (largest flocks of six Little and five Great), the light quickly fading so that it became difficult to pick birds up, even though they are big and white.
The show was soon over, no curtain calls, just the memory of this special gathering, the final tally being 21 Little, 15 Great and a single Cattle. 15 years ago you would have rightly questioned the sanity of anybody that would have suggested that such a gathering was possible in the UK. In the years to come these numbers might be considered to have been paltry. My money is on the 30 Great White Egret barrier being broken by the end of the winter. The current record of 20 will surely be broken.