Friday, 8 October 2010

The odd heron and egret

The title of this blog is a play on words. It's about one odd heron - a strange heron I have seen and the odd (meaning small number) great egret

dark heron, Ain Azziana, October 8th

The strange heron I'm blogging about is a dark heron found two weeks ago at Ain Azziana. I have asked help from the birding community to identify the bird. Ideas have varied. There were three main ideas,  1. hybrid bird, 2. melanistic (genetic colour defect) or 3. stained.

I think I now have the answer to its identity because of today's visit to the same spot as the bird was seen before. 

It was there again. However, It was no longer lively today. It appeared very tired. It struggled to take off although once in flight it seemed OK.

I got a very close look. I am sure the neck feathers were of poor quality. Also the bird may have been involved in some sort of fight as a small number of its feathers on its wing look like they have been pulled or pucked. There is permanent pack of dogs near-by.

I have little doubt the bird is stained. Ironically it is returning to a more natural colour on its wings   (to a grey heron I believe). See the photo above. It looks like the staining was very light there and somehow it is clearing up.  However it appears to be a race against time as the bird is weak.

I'm a very grateful for those who commented whether they got it "right" or not.  It's been a great learning curve for me. 

I had wondered how the bird had retained its symmetrical plumage if it had been stained but James in Tanzania seems to have worked it out when he comment on this blog yesterday morning

I still think that it is an oil stained bird probably a Grey Heron that was engulfed when standing downwind of an oil smoke plume, presumably whilst it was huddle-perched on the ground - hence the appearent 'patterning'. We saw lots and lots of birds of many species droplet-stained just like this during the massive oil fires of the "First Gulf War" in 1991. Note also the rather greasy look to many of the longer body feathers, especially underneath.
James in Arusha

great egret, Ain Azziana

I saw the odd one or two great egret today very close to the dark heron. My memory isn't perfect but I am pretty sure they are the first ones I have seen this winter. The bird differs from little egret (which is very numerous up and down the coast) because it travels more slowly away and less distance away from the cold. So its not surprising it is a later arrival. Since it has finally started to arrive that must mean its getting colder in Europe.  Hard to believe - 36C is predicted for here on Tuesday! 


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