A Taste of the Future?

I have always wanted to see a Little Egret. This is not a terribly easy wish to fulfil in Scotland, but I noted with interest that one appeared to be wintering at RSPB Loch Leven. With this in mind, I jumped at an opportunity to go birding there last Saturday.

Arriving at the reserve, an enquiry at the visitor centre revealed that the bird was still around, and had been seen the previous day. Although I was desperate to see the Little Egret, I was also here for the birding in general, so I decided to stay at the centre for a while and see what was about.

It was a cold day, so the feeders were buzzing with activity. Among the Chaffinches, Goldfinches, and Greenfinches, there were some beautiful Tree Sparrows, a species which always makes me look forward to visiting the reserve. On top of all that, I briefly saw a Lesser Redpoll. All this, and lots more, and I hadn't even started on the loch yet!

Using the scopes in the visitor centre, I soon racked up a good list including Whooper Swan, Goosander, Goldeneye, Pochard, Wigeon, and Teal. A Buzzard watched the Black-headed Gulls from a fence post, and a Curlew flew in to feed in the field. Fantastic!

Walking the Hill Loop produced little but Blue and Coal Tits, and then the snow came on, so that visibility was quite poor.

Back to the car for a quick lunch, and then to find that Little Egret! The first two hides on the wetland trail did show some nice birds, but were pretty quiet, so I soon decided to stake it out in the Carden Hide, which is usually the best in my experience.

Once there, I set my scope up looking north onto Loch Leven itself, but quickly moved it to face east when I thought I saw something through my binoculars. It was the Little Egret!

The bird was quite distant at first, but soon flew on to an island close to the hide, where it frustratingly hid behind the rushes. Determined to get a good view, I decided to wait and see if it came out. (During this period, I saw 85 Curlew.) After a while, and to my utter delight, it started walking around the island looking for food. The views were incredible! As it neared the end of the island closest to the hide, it flew to the shore of the loch and began working its way towards me again. The bird was then spooked by two more people entering the hide, but only flew to the other side of the building, and after a couple of minutes it gave the best views yet! I was able to show it to the newcomers (they had seen plenty in Africa, but this was their first in Britain, and even to read the coloured rings on its legs. For a while I watched it stirring up the mud to find prey with that wonderful stirring motion of its feet, and occasionally catching a small fish. The wind blew the lovely plume on the back of its head, and in gusts it looked as if the bird could hardly resist being blown away!

And so I continued to watch my first Little Egret until, unfortunately, I had to tear myself away. Having noticed that the bird was ringed, though, I inquired on my way out where this bird was from. It was ringed in Lincolnshire in 2014, but I was glad that it had come north this winter. Little Egrets are still spreading north, and sightings of them in Scotland will only become more frequent and widespread. Maybe in 20 or so years' time they will be as familiar as the Grey Heron (Incidentally, I saw none of these on this particular visit).

The Little Egret is here to stay, and I, for one, will always enjoy this beautiful bird, wherever I happen to see it.