If you regularly pass a marsh, a pond or swamp along the U.S. coastline you’re probably are familiar with the Snowy Egret . . . a graceful two foot tall bird with black bill and legs, yellow feet, and beautiful white feathers. Large flocks are common and Snowy Egrets are not particularly afraid of humans.
In Europe and Africa, an almost identical bird prowls their coastline . . . the Little Egret.
During breeding season (May and June), the Little Egret has two long white plumes that extend from its head to the middle of the back. Once breeding season ends . . . the plumes fall off and the Little Egret looks very much like it’s American cousin.
Until 1954, telling the difference between a Snowy Egret and a Little Egret was not terribly important because they were separated by the vast Atlantic Ocean. But in that year two individual Little Egrets showed up in Nova Scotia and the Barbados. Theories abound on how they got here, but I prefer to blame it on . . . like most things . . . Space Aliens.
Anyway, in 1980 one was found in Quebec. Then in 1984 three were reported in Nova Scotia and another in Massachusetts.
Since then east coast visits of Little Egrets have become more common. It is still an incredibly rare bird in the Americas . . . but one or two are seen every year. Especially in Falmouth, Maine.
Since 2011, a Little Egret has shown up at Falmouth’s Gilsland Farms, a nature preserve run by Maine Audubon.
It is so regular that I penciled a Little Egret in when I was drawing up my Maine Big Year plan . . . of course I’d get one.
“The best laid plans of mice and men can still go wrong”.
This year, the Little Egret did not show up. A strange looking hybrid of a Little Egret and Snowy Egret pairing appeared early in April but hybrids can’t be counted in a Big Year.
In late May, a couple of well respected birders saw what appeared to be a bona-fide Little Egret but the bird wasn’t around long enough to chase. By early June, Little Egret reports were coming in from Wells, Scarborough and Falmouth . . . but the bird was maddingly difficult to find.
Ingrid and I staked-out places it was seen . . . waiting and searching for hours . . . only to learn it had just appeared 50 miles away and then flew off.
With July approached, I was getting concerned . . . once the Little Egret’s plumes fall off . . . it would become very difficult to discern it from the Snowy Egrets that are all over the place.
So this morning, in desperation, I planted myself in a bird blind in Falmouth, where the Little Egret had been seen off and on. My plan was to sit there all day and hope the bird would come to me. I had my spotting scope, camera, water and snacks (gotta have snacks).
Five minutes into my all-day-sit I was bored and looked at my phone (such discipline) and another local birder had just seen the Little Egret in Scarborough . . . 10 miles away.
So I packed up my camera, scope, water and snacks (gotta have snacks) and rushed back to the car.
An hour later, via a long range spotting scope, I got the long sought Little Egret, feeding with several dozen Snowy Egrets. One of his plumes had partially fallen off . . . in another week the plumes would have been gone . . . and I’d never have found him.
Maine Big Year Bird #285!!!