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Friday, 31 July 2009

CATTLE EGRET on my BERKSHIRE LIST at last

FRIDAY 31 JULY

An extract from LGRE Diary Notes July 2009

A much better day than recently with blue skies, puffy cloud and temperatures reaching 24 degrees C

After a couple of false starts yesterday, I was delighted to get another opportunity to twitch Berkshire's second-ever CATTLE EGRET today. Ken Moore telephoned me at 1320 hours to say that the bird had just reappeared at the main pit west of Padworth Lane, despite the fact that Ken had failed to locate it all morning. I immediately jumped in the car and made my way to the M40 and subsequently the A404 and M4. It was 45 miles in total and at 1430 hours, I eventually arrived and joined Ken, CDRH, Mike McKee and Martin Sell.

Thankfully on my part, it was third time lucky. The CATTLE EGRET was roosting on the shingle ridge just 35 yards west of the working Komatsu caterpillar. I was immediately struck by its plumage - it was in almost full breeding with rich orange-ginger jowel feathers, crown feathers and mantle plumes. Not what I expected for late July and memories of past escaped coromandus came flowing back. The colours were not as intense though, nor reddish or deep chestnut in tone. I checked up with my close friend Keith Vinicombe and he confirmed that the two adults at Chew Valley Lake (Avon) that he had seen yesterday (with a single juvenile) were also equally well-marked. I had only seen one such well-marked individual in late summer and that was by the A1 near Brampton (Cambs) in August 2007. Furthermore, Hancocks 'Herons and Egrets of the World' suggested individual adults varied enormously in their moult strategies and a percentage remained in breeding plumage until early September.

The ginger colouring also extended on to the nape whilst the remainder of the plumage was pure white. The bill was typically orange whilst the legs were pinkish contrasting with darker feet.

It roosted for much of the time, drinking twice before being flushed and flying a couple of times and resettling with Canada Geese on the far tip of the spit. It quickly returned to the shingle ridge and then spent the best part of an hour resting and occasionally preening and largely partly hidden. It then returned to the water to drink and took seven 'sips' before retreating back to the vegetation. During this time, numerous other birders arrived, including Derek Barker, Adam Bassett, Roger Stansfield and Fraser Cottington. Under virtual constant observation from 1430, it was flushed by the pit contractors at 1616 hours and then flew east across the road and landed out of view in a meadow beyond the River Kennet. In flight, it could be seen that it was missing its innermost primary.

Two Sparrowhawks, HOBBY, Common Buzzard, Common Kingfisher, a southerly passage of 16 Sand Martins and a swimming Grass Snake were also recorded at the pit.

It represents only the second record for Berkshire.

After I departed at 1620, Chris Heard relocated the bird shortly later in a field with grazing cattle east of Padworth Lane before it returned once more to the main pit. It flew off east again at 1715 hours. It then did the same again and was relocated 300m east of the pits in a large Oak at the far end of the field with cattle, 250m east along the footpath which starts 100m south of the Kennet. It was also visible from the canal bridge (but not from Kennet bridge) and was present in the Oak until 19:20, when it left the tree and headed west but was not seen to land on the pit (Paul Bright-Thomas)

DETAILED DIRECTIONS

From the M4 at Junction 12, head west along the A4 for about three miles to Padworth village. Just before the roundabout and just after the Total garage turn left into Padworth Lane. Cross the railway then the river and continue for 600 yards to just before the River Kennet and park sensibly on the verge thereabouts (making sure as not to block the farmer's gate). The Cattle Egret is favouring the pit at SU 607 673 easily viewed from the footpath that leads west from the bridge.