Nick Morgan got in touch a couple of days ago. He has drawn attention to the appearance of a white heron sp. in photos, and actually, rightly so. The question surrounds photos taken in the Nosterfield area of North Yorkshire in late July 2011. The photographer, Brian Morland is a keen naturalist and unsurprisingly assumed he had photographed a Little Egret with standard lens, at close range, as it flew off. On seeing the photos Nick became really concerned (like, Little Blue Heron concerned!). I think he is right to be. As he noted I think it does appear to show what looks like some dark tips to some of the primaries (especially on the right wing). The bill also appears to be bicoloured (specifically dark tipped) and of certain shape that suggests Little Blue Heron. The legs also look mostly greenish, long etc. etc. hmmm…
Juvenile Little Egrets often show green legs and photos have an awful reputation for tricking us- especially when taken at odd angles. It’s hard to be sure on the dark tips on some photos, though not all white juvenile Little Blue Herons have obvious dark primary tips.
But the photos really bother me as they have done Nick. I can’t just eliminate Little Blue Heron, and it does kinda look like it has some feature of that species. But I feel disquieted and can’t get past equivocal. If it wasn’t so rare… Maybe we are being tricked by photo artifacts? Maybe we are not! If only there were better images!
There is another twist in the tail. The bird was seen and notes made on it by Steve Green visiting Nosterfield Nature Reserve. Seems it may have been there about a week in the company of a couple of Little Egrets. It was noted that it looked a little bigger and stockier (enough to be commented on) with relatively strong bill that also caused the observer to note that it recalled the bill of a Squacco Heron! So it’s getting scary, don’t you think? Juvenile in July? I really don’ know, but they are well-known for massive post breeding northerly dispersal of mostly white juveniles “many to points far outside breeding range” (Palmer 1962)… I guess someone really needs to see it again. It might not be far away.
3 photos of the bird below all © Brian Morland (they go bigger if you click on ’em)
Nick also noted the significant influx of American birds to Norway and Iceland in July…