Tuesday 9 June 2015

A little twitch

Last Tuesday (2 June), Ben Di Labio found a Little Egret along the Carp River outside of the town of Carp. Birders arrived quickly from nearby and most local birders go to enjoy the bird until just before dusk when it flew north. It was seen again first thing on the morning of 3 June before flying west along the Carp River.

Little Egret is an old world heron that has colonized some of the Lesser Antilles and is showing up more frequently on the northeast coast of North America. Even though it is increasing it is still VERY rare in North America (an ABA code 4) and this will be a new species for Ontario, bringing the list to 491 assuming the OBRC accepts the report.

Unfortunately, at the time, I was working down at Long Point. Normally I would have been 1.5 hours away from this location (probably more like 1 hour for such a rare bird :)) but instead I was more like 6 hours so a trip was out of the question. The earliest I could try would be the next Monday (8 June).

There was no word on the bird for several days so it appeared the bird was gone, until a report on Sunday (7 June) afternoon from Mike Norkum, some 14 km southeast from Carp. It was reported again briefly on the morning of 8 June at this same location (but there were several reports that turned out to be Great Egrets) and finally it was pinned down at a small pond in the Carp River floodplain in Kanata (10 km from the first sighting).  I hit the road, picked up Mike Runtz on my way, and a little over an hour later was enjoying fine views of this sweet bird!
First look with a Great Egret for size comparison
Check out those yellow feet and blue lores
A good shot showing chest plumes
One more!
The Little Egret spent its time feeding actively while we were watching it, mostly stalking prey (it caught many small fish as we watched), but we also observed it regularly stirring the water with its feet. This behaviour is well-known, particularly by foraging Snowy and Little Egrets and may take advantage of the brightly-coloured feet/toes to either scare up or attract potential prey. Check out this paper from 1959 to read more about it. Or, you can check out the video I took to see for yourself:
Identification of Little Egret from the North/South American Snowy Egret can be tricky but the presence of two long head plumes, blue-grey lores, long, distinct breast plumes and a few other features all help seal the deal for this bird as Little Egret. David Sibley has a good page on these identifying features and there is a great ID essay here.

The history of this species in the Americas is very interesting - it first appeared in Barbados in 1954 when found by James Bond and was first documented nesting there in 1994. For a full history and overview of the species in the Caribbean, check out this article on eBird Caribbean. And if you still want more background information on this species, check out the species account on the IUCN's Heron Conservation website.

Here's hoping it gets found again for more people to enjoy!