Cattle Egrets – Pagham Harbour, West Sussex

On Friday 14th September an Ortolan Bunting had been found near Cosham, not the normal fly over heard only record but an individual that had come down into fields and was looking settled. We were at the Harry Potter Warner Brothers Tour on the Friday and I couldn’t go on the Saturday as I had workshops. The Bunting was still present on Saturday evening and so I planned to go on the Sunday before my Sunday afternoon workshop which was close by at Bosham and Langstone. Unfortunately there was no sign on the Sunday and so I decided to try instead for the Cattle Egrets which had been in Pagham Harbour near the north wall.

I arrived there and joined another birder who was watching them from the harbour wall, they were way off in the distance and for most of the time totally out of view. I got out an OS map and with google maps worked out a convoluted way to get closer. It was a fairly long walk but I successfully relocated the group of cattle and found 4 Cattle Egrets feeding with them. 

They associate with cattle often walking around their feet grabbing insects which the cattle disturb. They are really dumpy, hunchbacked and stubby-billed birds compared to the more elegant Little Egret and they also have a curious exaggerated head thrusting gait rather like a chicken. Their breeding range has been expanding northwards through Europe and there are regular invasions and large groups are often seen especially in the south of England.

Its never easy to draw an actively feeding bird but the fact that there were 4 of them made it easier as one of them was always in view. At least one of them still retained some summer plumage with pinkish orange tones on the crown, chest and back. At once stage a Roe Deer ran through the field and the Egrets flew up into the trees.

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