Birdwatch: cattle egret sighting is proof staying local brings rewards

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Birdwatch: cattle egret sighting is proof staying local brings rewards

Punk-haired bird is the 100th species I’ve seen within a mile of my Somerset home

Two cattle egrets hide in the trees

Wed 11 Aug 2021 01.00 EDT

It’s happened several times before. I’m on the phone, chatting to a friend or colleague, when suddenly I have to cut the call short because an unusual bird is flying overhead.

One rainy spring afternoon, back in the mid-1980s, an osprey unexpectedly appeared above my childhood home. A few autumns ago, another osprey, this time being mobbed by ravens, flew south over my Somerset garden. And last month (again over the garden), three birds with long, trailing legs, looking rather like oversized white doves: cattle egrets.

I had been expecting them. Since cattle egrets first turned up on the Somerset Levels just over a decade ago, they’ve become a regular sight; usually accompanying the cattle from which they get their name. But I’d never seen them over our village before.

I headed straight down to “the loop” – the area of messy fields and narrow waterways behind my home. And sure enough, there they were: walking jerkily, like animatronic toys, among a herd of holsteins. Showing off their orange punk hairdos, they strayed dangerously close to these huge beasts, grabbing the insects stirred up by the cows’ hooves, while trying to avoid being trodden on.

Those egrets were a significant landmark: the 100th species of bird I’ve seen within a mile of my home. Their appearance demonstrated that staying local – as we have recently been forced to do – does eventually bring rewards.

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