Snowy Egret – Balvicar, Argyll

At about 10pm on Sunday night (4th November) a Mega Alert reported an apparent Snowy Egret in Scotland near Oban in Argyll. This would be a first for Britain if confirmed. At work the next day Richard Baatsen rang me to check whether I was going and if so when. The identification seemed to be certain now and it appeared that he would be going that night to get there for Wednesday morning, Stuart was hoping to travel up on Wednesday night and Peter wouldn’t be available to go up until Thursday night. I said that I wasn’t sure when or if I would go although I certainly couldn’t go at the weekend because Aly, James & family were coming to visit. I had Friday booked off at work anyway but had nothing planned. My first reaction was to change this to Thursday and then travel up on Wednesday night.

Before I had made any further arrangements Dad rang and checked whether I would be going, he seemed very keen and we tentatively arranged to go up on Wednesday night. I checked with Peter when he would be free and unfortunately he could not take Thursday off work but that he would be free to go up on Thursday night. I decided to wait for Peter and go up on Thursday night. The bird was still present on Thursday morning and in fact reports were suggesting that it may have been in the area for nine days or more.

I picked up Dad in Wellow at 9pm on Thursday night and we arrived at Peter’s place near Dursley at 11pm. Peter had just arrived back from the Cinema and quickly threw some things into a bag. The weather forecast had been on our minds with snow and strong winds forecast for the east coast and when Peter’s housemate reported that he had just flown back from Aberdeen and that his flight was the last to leave before the airport was closed down we began to get a little anxious. Peter rang AA road watch and a recorded message gave details of various roads which had been closed due to heavy snow. It seemed that most of the problems were on the east coast and so we made the decision to go.

At 11:45pm we were on the road again. I had driven to Dursley and then Dad took over and did 3 hours which took us to Carlisle. We stopped to fill up and buy a sandwich and then Peter took over and drove all the way to the bird. We arrived at Balvicar at about 7:20am a total trip for me of 565 miles and 11 hours. I felt reasonably fresh having dosed in the back seat for most of the trip. The forecasts for temperatures of 3 degrees below zero seemed to be wide of the mark, in fact it looked like it was going to be a nice morning. The bird was not on show yet even though there were at least 20 birders looking already. The Egret was not usually seen until around 8:30 each morning. We wandered around the various areas that the egret had been seen and as the minutes ticked by we began to get a little nervous, if the bird had gone then this would be my longest dip ever.

We had completed a full circle of the tidal creeks and farmland around the golf course and we had returned to the car for a coffee. It was now 8:30am, on several of the previous mornings the bird had already shown by now. As I poured out a cup of coffee my pager bleeped to report a national message, it could have been anything and when no one around me reacted to their pager I knew that it couldn’t be news of the egret. I glanced at the pager screen and was shocked and delighted to see that the egret had indeed been re-located, by the 4th green and fishing in the small tidal creek. I called out the news and we quickly made our way over to the bird. It was incredibly tame and allowed a very close approach.

It was a tremendous relief to see the bird especially considering that if the bird had not shown then we would have probably hung around the area until at least 2pm before giving up. This could have meant a miserable journey back and a very late return home.

I got out my sketching stuff and made some brief notes. The very brightly coloured yellow lores were immediately striking (Little Egret would be grey/green at this time of year) and so were the vivid yellow feet with clearly defined yellow rear to the tarsus and tibia (Little Egret would have virtually all dark legs with colour restricted to the feet only).

A very neat bird and may be even the incredible tameness could be an identification feature. Perhaps an overdue rarity and there may be more Snowy Egrets in the future but it is certainly exciting to see the first record and especially when you have to make a round trip of 1130 miles!

An added bonus was the sight of a Golden Eagle drifting over the mountains in the distance. In an effort to miss any rush hour hold ups in Birmingham we left at about 9:30am. It was a long journey back and I finally arrived home at 8:40pm.

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