Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Little Egret is a Big Attraction
July 09, 2011
By Steve Grinley

     I came home one day this week to an envelope taped to my door. No, it wasn’t an eviction notice. My upstairs neighbor sent a note, along with a newspaper article, explaining that his eighty-six year old Dad from Maine reads the Portsmouth Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram cover to cover each day. His Dad sent him this article about a rare Little Egret that appeared in the Scarborough Marsh last week, because his Dad knew that he lived above “the Bird Watcher”.

     It was Wednesday morning, the 30th of June when rare Little Egret was discovered among the similar snowy egrets on the marsh. The Little Egret is native to Europe, Africa and Asia, and this was the first state record for Maine. There are a number of other North American records, including one seen in Massachusetts on Martha’s Vineyard backing the 1980s. I have only seen the bird in Kenya and in Thailand.

     That Wednesday, the egret appeared on the Rare Bird Alert and, since it was less than an hour and a half away, I was tempted to go see it. I contacted Margo, and she wanted to go as well, but we waiting until I ended my work day at 5. We feared that might be too late as egrets go to roost in the evening, but, since sundown came so late in these long days of summer, I thought we should take a chance.

     Along the way we were in phone contact with Deb La Roy and Liz Southworth, who had left earlier to see the bird. They were seeing the bird as we cruised up the Maine Turnpike. Just as we were getting off the Pike, we got the call that the bird had flown, but we continued on, hoping that it didn’t go far. We arrived at the parking lot to the path out to Scarborough Marsh at about 6:30. Deb and Liz were just coming off the path and described how the bird had flown off, around a line of trees across the marsh.

     Margo and I spent the next hour or more driving around the marsh, toward the coast, looking at every snowy egret we encountered. But none had the long plumes and gray lores (the area between the eyes and the bill) of the rare egret. We did have distant views of the island where many egrets roost for the night, but we could see only white specs denoting the birds that had already arrived on the distant island. We watched as a few more egrets flew by, heading for the night roost, but the light was getting dim and it was time for us to head home.

     We vowed to try again on Thursday if the bird was found again in the morning. The Little Egret was seen the next morning according to the Rare Bird Alert. Margo and I decided to take no chances and we left at noon. As we arrived at the Scarborough Marsh parking lot, we were concerned that that we could not see any birders down along the path. We thought for sure that there would be rows of spotting scopes focused on the bird.

     So we headed down the path, again checking every snowy egret we encountered. We got about halfway down the path and saw several egrets with some gulls in one of the salt pans about half way across the marsh. With our scopes, we could see that one of the egrets was different. It did have the dark legs and yellow feet like the snowy egrets, but we could see two long plumes draped off the back of its head. We could even see that the lores were gray, not yellow as in the snowy egrets. We had found the Little Egret!

     As we continued to watch the bird, we could see that it was longer necked, with a longer dark bill than the nearby snowy egrets. It gave more the appearance of a great egret by shape. It was a handsome bird indeed.

     Another birder came along, a local birder who had seen a report of the bird on the noon hour news. We showed him the bird through our scopes and he was pleased. A short while later, James P. Smith from western Massachusetts arrived, and he got on the bird immediately. Soon Don and Lillian Stokes arrived and stayed a while to also enjoy the bird.

     Still, as Margo and I finally left, we encountered only one other birder that was coming in along the path. We told him about the location of the bird and he continued on to see the rare egret. We were surprised that more birders were not there. But it was the middle of the week and others may not have had the freedom from work and had to wait for the weekend. Though I am not sure that that was not the last day the bird was seen. We were glad that we went when we did to see this first North American sighting for both of us.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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