Englefield- cattle egret

13th January 2019

To finish off the day I set off in search of a local rarity, a cattle egret. This exotic bird is a close relative of the more common little egret but has a prominent yellow bill. The cattle egret also differs from other egrets because of its behaviour. Little egrets are usually found on lake edges fishing, then they will usually roost in a nearby tree with other little egrets. On the other hand, cattle egrets spend much of their time (as their name suggests) wandering around the legs of cattle (or in my experience horses), in a field eating whatever insects come their way. The first field that I checked in Englefield was filled with gulls like common, herring and black headed gull. After a few minutes we realised that this was the wrong horse field, so we carried on towards the correct location a few minuets away. I used my binoculars to check the closest horse field but failed to find the elusive egret.

cattle egret at home surrounded by horses

We assumed that this was the wrong field again so drove further up the hill where I met another birder who I asked about where the egret was, helpfully they told me, the field that I had just checked was where it was last seen. After learning this, yet again I scanned the field and to the far right of me, near a group of horses, the head and bright yellow bill of the cattle egret appeared just above the brow of the hill.  This exotic bird was a great sight in Berkshire and was only the second one I had ever seen. As time went on, slowly this elegant bird moved further up the hill into view. The cattle egret was clearly very happy and at home there, busy feeding amongst the care-free oblivious horses. This great birding opportunity was unfortunately disrupted by some over-friendly horses in front of me. Their constant attempts to be fed/stroked meant that from there I could not manage to take a single reasonable shot of the bird, and any photo that I did take had a strange fuzzy brown edge to it when the horse had wandered unwittingly into the shot.

size comparison

Determined to get a photo of this luminously white bird I attempted photographing it from a different angle, the other side of the ridge. Doing this involved pulling in at a lay-by and peering over the top of a high hedge with my camera sitting awkwardly on the thin branches of the hawthorn. But it was worth it.

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