How does that old chestnut go? You wait ages for a Little Egret and then two come along at once. (Or something very similar to that, I’m sure). And so it happened today. A month after the high drama of the strange pearl grey egret down in the south mainland of Shetland at the Loch of Spiggie, I found another egret this afternoon when driving to catch the ferry off Whalsay.
The Spiggie egret, despite raising hopes in some quarters that it might have been a Little Blue Heron, ultimately proved to be a Little Egret that appeared to have spent some time on an offshore oil rig prior to arriving in Shetland, sullying its immaculate white plumage with sooty blue-grey deposits.
This afternoon’s bird was a much more striking affair altogether – gleaming Persil white in an otherwise overcast, miserable day. We’ve just been battered by a good westerly storm, and I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t hope that this particular bird might turn out to be an ultra-rare (in Europe) Snowy Egret blown in from the Americas. Alas the tarsus and the lores (that’s the lower leg and the bare bit in front of the eye, non-bird-nerds) weren’t the intense cadmium yellow I’d have hoped for in that species. This one then is a Little Egret – a fairly common bird nowadays in Britain, though still pretty scarce in Shetland.
This was only the second bird for Whalsay, so in that regard it’s a rarity. I recall getting my dad to drive me to see a Little Egret in Brand’s Bay in Dorset in the late 1980s – back then, Little Egrets were still nationally rare birds. In the intervening years they’ve colonised Britain and are a regular breeding bird on the mainland.
I think I said that I hoped the autumn had one last good bird left in it for me. This wasn’t quite what I had in mind, but… it’s hard to argue with a bird as good-looking as a Little Egret.