Sunday, February 13, 2011

Egypt Egret

After the near tropical weather of Egypt it’s back to wet, grey British weather today and a chance to sort through the 1000 pics I took in Hurghada. It’s also an opportunity to catch up with family and fix the daily essentials of life.

The blog topic today is Cattle Egret, Bubulcus ibis, probably because they were everywhere we went in Hurghada, the birds unfazed by tourists and locals alike, and I couldn’t resist taking lots of pictures of this engaging species. Although I have seen Cattle Egrets all over the world, I have yet to see one in the UK where they are not yet fully established – that’s what comes of not being a twitcher I guess.

Along the Makadi Bay area the egrets spent all day patrolling hotel grounds and gardens, searching through the manicured grasses for insects, seemingly oblivious to and unafraid of passers-by. The egrets even occur in local art, like the picture hanging on the wall of our hotel dining room.

Sometimes their expressions appeared gentle, at others aggressive, the poses they adopted almost comical, their calls and demeanour reminding me of domestic chickens. At other times their determination and feeding prowess showed through as they explored every nook and cranny of the grass, sometimes crouching parallel to the ground, head and neck quivering before a rapid dart and the strike at prey. Some were not averse to climbing up on to sculpted hedges, manmade structures or even exotic flower beds in their quest for food. Although Cattle Egrets sometimes feeds in shallow water, unlike most herons this egret is typically found in fields and dry grassy habitats, reflecting a greater dietary reliance on terrestrial insects rather than aquatic prey.

The genus name Bubulcus is Latin for herdsman, referring, like the English name, to this species' association with cattle. Ibis is a Latin and Greek word which originally referred to another white wading bird, the Sacred Ibis. The Cattle Egret has two geographical races which are sometimes classified as full species, the Western Cattle Egret, Bubulcus ibis, and Eastern Cattle Egret, Bubulcus ibis coromandus. The eastern subspecies coromandus, breeds in Asia and Australasia, and the western nominate form occupies the rest of the species range, including the Americas. The Cattle Egret has undergone one of the most rapid and wide reaching natural expansions of any bird species. It was originally native to parts of Southern Spain and Portugal, tropical and subtropical Africa and humid tropical and subtropical Asia. In the end of the 19th century it began expanding its range into southern Africa. Cattle Egrets were first sighted in the South Americas in 1877, having apparently flown across the Atlantic, but t was not until the 1930s that the species is thought to have become established in that area.

Cattle Egrets first arrived in North America in 1941, and after originally being dismissed as escapees, bred in Florida in 1953, and spread rapidly, breeding for the first time in Canada in 1962. They are now commonly seen as far west as California., first recorded breeding in Cuba in 1957, Costa Rice in 1958, and in Mexico in 1963, although they were probably established before that.

In Europe Cattle Egrets had historically declined in Spain and Portugal, but in the latter part of the 20th century expanded back through the Iberian Peninsula, and then colonised other parts of Europe; southern France in 1958, northern France in 1981 and Italy in 1985. Breeding in the UK was recorded for the first time in 2008 only a year after an influx seen in the previous year. In 2008 they were reported in Ireland for the first time.

Maybe this year I will get Cattle Egret on my non-existent British List?

This evening I’m sorting through more of my Egypt pictures - Chiffchaffs, Kingfisher, Osprey, Herons, waders, more pipits and Bluethroats, plus a few gull pictures for the Laridae enthusiasts out there.

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