Welcome to my blog

This is where I post various musings about wildlife and ecology, observations of interesting species (often invertebrates)
and bits of research that grab my attention. As well as blogging, I undertake professional ecological & wildlife surveys
covering invertebrates, plants, birds, reptiles, amphibians and some mammals, plus habitat assessment and management
. I don't work on planning applications/for developers. The pages on the right will tell you more about my work,
main interests and key projects, and you can follow my academic work here.

Friday 16 December 2011

Egrets, I've had a few, but then again...

OK, yes, the title is a terrible Piaf pun (je n'aigrette rien?) - maybe I'm feeling festive and frivolous... Anyhow, I've posted a lot of invertebrate taxonomic morphology lately, especially that of small beetles, so I thought I'd move up the size scale to look at a species that is probably one of Britain's most popular birds, the Little Egret (Egretta garzetta).

A little egret stalking through the water of a coastal scrape/lagoon
This is a small heron and its white plumage makes it both attractive and easily recognisable - the size and black beak separate it from other, scarcer, egrets in Britain. Although familiar to many people, its current British population size, around 1,600 wintering birds and 150 breeding pairs (RSPB, 2011) is a fairly recent phenomenon. Until the late 1980s, it was only seen occasionally, not breeding in Britain until 1996. This was  a result of natural colonisation from France where, in previous decades, it had expanded from southern Europe into western and northern France following effective legal protection which allowed its population to recover after massive declines up to the 19th century as birds were killed to provide decorative hat-feathers. In fact, the decline of this species was one of the reason the RSPB was founded back in 1889. It is now seen regularly, especially along the south coast, and in East Anglia and Wales, but is included on the Amber List as a rare breeding species as the number of breeding pairs remains fairly small.

It feeds on fish and other small animals (insects, amphibians, reptiles, crustaceans) which it hunts mainly by stalking in shallow water, sometimes also running with raised wings or shuffling its feet to disturb small fish; at other times they may simply stand still and ambush their prey. While bird-watching yesterday, I was pleased to see a little egret using the foot-shuffling method (which the other British egrets do not use) and, although I'm no wildlife film-maker, I did manage to capture this footage (on a compact, hence the graininess, but the behaviour is still visible):

You can see the shuffling, sometimes circular foot movements which, at the end, result in the rapid (blink and you'll miss it) capture of a prey item. I hope you enjoyed reading this tale of conservation success - also a departure from the usual invertebrate theme - more coming soon.

Prey detected, the beak strikes!

RSPB (2011). Little egret. [accessed 16/12/2011]

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