It has been a long time since I've relaxed in the month of June and 2015 was no different... With that in mind, I've had the urge to write a short blog post on twitching/listing and the Little Egret that I presumably won't be seeing...
Avid Ontario birders were stunned to see Ben DiLabio's photos of a spankin Little Egret taken on June 2nd, 2015 in Carp, ON (major congrats Ben!). Probably one of the most exciting birds ever to be found in the province - it happened to be sporting breeding plumage and the photos showed almost every feature you would want to see. WOW. Several local birders saw it in the afternoon.
Understandably a number of people went looking for this stunner the next morning but many/all were thwarted as it left the site quite early in the morning. Dang. But that's birding for you. A rare bird is found, and eventually it leaves.
Then things got weird.
The bird was refound, but was now lacking its beautiful (and ID useful) head plumes, several km from the first site, and continued to be challenging to nail down. Over the month of June and into July there were sporadic sightings until birders have figured out enough of a pattern that people can travel some distance and hope to get a sighting of the beast. For those who enjoy the chase, or the tick, or the social aspects of seeing rare birds - it must be a real treat. As a disinclined chaser, I just can't wrap my head around the idea of going for it.
Others have written more detail on why this Little Egret is so rare, so I'll keep it short and simple. Our Snowy Egret appears to be the "new world" counterpart to the "old world" Little Egret. We guess that they blow from Africa over to the Lesser Antillies (or beyond) on the trade winds that blow in the oppisite direction as the northern Atlantic (east to west). These are the same winds that bring us Cape Verde-type Hurricanes in the fall. Once they're in the "new world" - a select few get REALLY freakin lost and end up in North America (presumably migrating "north" as they would have from Africa into Europe).
The story is spectacular, until you look into the details. The Little Egret really doesn't look that different from our Snowy Egret. Don't get me wrong, Ben's photos are some of the best rarity photos ever taken of a truly beautiful bird - but now that it has lost it's distinctive head plumes and the skin colours fade - well... It starts to look more and more like a Snowy Egret...
Things turn comical (for me personally) when a Snowy Egret was found by Cheryl Edgecombe at Windemere Basin in Hamilton barely five minutes from my house. 5 min, 5km for the Snowy or 10 hours and 1000km for the Little Egret. If I blur my eyes, I could probably just pretend the Snowy was the Little and be done with it!
So I ask myself, what (truly) is the difference between the Snowy Egret and the Little Egret at this point? Some initial thoughts are: first provincial record, life bird, not a North American species... But none of those points affect me personally. I didn't find it (so not "my" first/second/third record), I don't keep a life list, and I would prefer to see all birds in their proper range for the first time. Vagrants for me are the excitement of the unknown. I can go to Van Wagner's Beach 1000 times and not see a Leach's Storm-Petrel, but when I do - it's MORE exciting because I HAVE been there 1000 times before.
Most of this is subjective due to my personal interests and where I live, and in no way am I trying to deter from the excitement of the observation or those who have traveled to see it. I know I won't be going to see it anytime soon, and I know there will come a point in the future where I say "dang, I wish I could have seen that Little Egret - what a spectacular bird".
A quick summary of twitching factors for me:
- Can I learn anything by going?
- Time of year
Any reasons for twitching/not twitching rare birds that apply to you that I haven't mentioned? Or that you feel differently about?
Quiz answers soon!