Our exotic winter visitors

12 Feb

For some 15 – 20 years we have been fortunate to have a number of Little Egrets visiting us each winter living mostly along the cliff and up towards Stanbridge. These beautiful white heron like birds only appeared in the UK around 1989 and first bred here in 1996 and illustrate the changing nature of our wildlife.

This winter there seem to be four overwintering here and they can be distinguished from similar Egrets by their yellow feet (not that you can see this in the photo below)

Little Egrets on the Cliff

They are often seen in the company of our local Herons and when they first overwintered here they apparently caused quite a stir among the local Heron population. Neil Forster, our local world famous artist, described it as if Marilyn Monroe suddenly appeared in the middle of some old gray men!!

They arrived in November from the continent and will probably return back there in March.

Little Egrets were once common here and were eaten with great relish by various members of the gentry and royalty with some 1,000 egrets (among numerous other birds) in the banquet to celebrate the enthronement of George Neville as Archbishop of York at Cawood Castle in North Yorkshire  in 1465. They are  also listed in the coronation feast of King Henry VI in 1429. They had disappeared by the mid 16th century, when William Gowreley, ‘yeoman purveyor to the Kinges mowthe’, “had to send further south” for egrets. Given their beautiful feathers they were in demand for decorating hats and further declined until they were restricted to southern Europe by the 19th Century.

They are very flighty birds are are often seen as a blur of pure white disappearing into the distance often with a Heron or two in tow. They feed on small fish, crustaceans, insects etc so it’s clearly important the Avon in Sherston doesn’t freeze for any length of time as they may starve.

Keep your eye’s out for them and if you see any more than four together  please let me know. Last winter there were six.



5 Responses to “Our exotic winter visitors”

  1. Martin S February 13, 2012 at 11:04 am #

    So why do the Egrets and Herons keep close together? Is it a survival behaviour? Do they hope to share in the food supply that each other finds? Anybody know?

  2. Irene J February 13, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    Egrets and herons are both part of the same family group. Have just read on the web that each species will vigorously defend its feeding territories from other members of the same group. The heron tends to drive off the egret. However during breeding season, it is very common to see colonies of egrets and herons nesting side by side in the same tree. Maybe, local photographers will get lucky…

  3. sherstonwildlife February 13, 2012 at 1:50 pm #

    Both this winter and last there was often a Heron hanging around the Egrets sometimes quite close together. The picture in this post has a Heron just out of shot (I had to crop it to show the Egrets). Maybe they are just fascinated by the blondes? I will ask someone at the British Trust for Ornithology and see if they can shed any light.

  4. sherstonwildlife February 15, 2012 at 7:20 pm #

    Unexpected perspective on this blog – a friend observed – “So how do you cook an Egret”! Not quite the comment I was hoping for……

  5. Nic F March 9, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

    Fairly sure that I’ve just spotted a Red Kite opposite the Trouble House – haven’t seen one this far west before, was admiring them over Witney earlier in the week, so it was worth parking up with the bins on the Long Newton road. Could see the forked tail but difficult to pick up the colour from the distance.

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