Sunday, 27 January 2013

Cosmopolitan on the Crooked Lonnen

Apart from the odd Tundra Bean Goose and the occasional appearance of a Bittern or two there hasn't been a bird of real note in Northumberland in January. That all changed yesterday when an Egret that had been hanging around the floods north of the Crooked Lonnen for at least three days was finally seen by one of the island's regular birders and identified as a Cattle Egret. 

Only the second record for Northumberland, the first over a quarter of century ago back in 1986 was only seen by three observers, so there was plenty of interest from fashionistas and coonty listas. A breezy morning and a short hike up the Crooked Lonnen where it had been seen at first light to drop into the small hedged garden of the bungalow on the north side.

It was quickly picked out mooching around the back lawn and proceeded to perform magnificently over the next 30 minutes, moving at least twice and walking a circular route around the woodpile once, before settling into a characteristic hunched posture almost on full view at the back of the garden through wire fence in the gloom under several conifers.

To huge excitement it got up and flew about for half a minute before landing further away at the back of the adjacent sheep field. The crowd could hardly contain themselves as it stabbed the ground briefly in search of food. The excitement was such that when a roosting Long-eared Owl chose to put in an appearance several were near to fever pitch and raised their bins.

Such was the occasion that everyone seemed to have brought out their best winter hats, creating a an Ascot-like gathering worthy of the egret's reputation as the world's most cosmopolitan species.

 A small selection of the Hat Fest

Notable choir member and occasional birder Tom C used the occasion to field test the new 'Snow-Melt' hat. The innovative technology built into this is incredible, using solar reflectivity Snow-Melt melts snow on the path ahead at distances up to 10m ensuring that the wearer has a clear path through even the heaviest drifts. A hat for tough terrain the makers estimate that as a result of the embedded phosphorescent fibres it can be seen at a distance of 10 miles on a foggy day and you can tumble dry it. It did cause a few issues with some of the photographers who had to make some ISO adjustments to cope with the additional reflected light but several commented later that it helped bring out some of the subtler white plumage tones of the Cattle Egret.

Snow-Melt - Brighten Your Birding!

It was good to see the finder of Northumberland's first Cattle Egret, Roger Foster, making the effort to see the second,  though perhaps understandably with just a hint of sadness in the old eyes as he watched his blocker fall to all and sundry.

No Regrets Roger!

ADMc and I moved off to look over the Rocket Fields, harbour and onto The Heugh and picked up single Red-necked Grebe and Slavonian Grebe as well as c.10 Long-tailed Ducks. A Merlin perched up on the mudflats opposite The Snook was our last addition as we left the island.

As to the origins of the Cattle Egret, it is possible that it is the individual that has been in Donegal, Ireland between 14th December and 20th January. It will be interesting to see if the Donegal bird is reported again. A movement of 375miles as the egret flies would probably be a bit of a doddle.

Edit -1st Feb - The Donegal individual reported again today so it would appear this is a new/different individual and all my theories of regular latitudinal wintering were bollocks...

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