Sunday, 3 December 2017

Chinese Egret

I missed my chance to get out in the nice still conditions of mid-week this week thanks to a knee injury; an injury (which could have been much worse) picked up chasing the Greater Spotted Eagle Clanga clanga around Qie Ding! By the time I was ready to head out Friday, the familiar gale force winds of the winter season had returned, and these limited my options somewhat. Friday started out OK, with three distant but welcome Common Pochards Aythya ferina at my new duck site, only the second time I have seen this species in Qi Gu. These were joined Friday by four Gadwall Mareca strepera, another one that has enjoyed a very long absence. Nothing is close at this site, but with the Eurasian Coot Fulica atra count steadily climbing there (now up to fifty), it was only a matter of time before I managed  a closer shot of one of those; a dream come true!

As whatever I chose to go after Friday was going to be hard, I spent the day on three Chinese Egrets Egretta eulophotes that are wintering locally. One adult did come close enough to photograph, but in overcast conditions. Still, as this is not one I spend much time looking for in winter and is a bit of a 'confusion species', it was good to have a few recognisable shots of one.

The fact that Little Egrets Egretta garzetta are going on this post too is a bit of a giveaway as to just how poor the rest of Friday was, but at least having one or two photos of these means having something to compare the Chinese Egret with! Juveniles of Little Egret also have extensively green legs, but these have turned mostly black (or so I thought Friday) by the time wintering Chinese Egrets arrive.Those that remain can easily be separated from Chinese Egret by the colour of the lower mandible: greyish-pink or whitish in Little Egret; yellow-orange in Chinese Egret.

Saturday was hopeless in the wind and gloom, and I only managed a single shot (first bird below) of a rather tatty (yet weirdly chunky) taimyrensis gull at Bu Dai. I saw a further three at Au Gu on Sunday (one of which I photographed, second bird below), all in a similar condition to the first. I'm mad keen to get some December shots of big gulls to see what kind of condition they arrive here in, as typically I only look for them in February and March. Certainly, taimyrensis can be said to be in quite a state at this time, with moult only at mid-primaries and lots of secondaries still growing. Interestingly, the bill of taimyrensis seems to stay bright throughout the winter; the only adult mongolicus I found over the weekend had rather a dull green bill.

I ended up in Au Gu on Sunday, unintentionally, having failed to find much in the way of big gulls at the usual sites. The most interesting birds were the egrets (which says it all), and surprisingly I came across quite a number of young Little Egrets still with plenty of green in their legs.

More 'interesting' still was the variation that was apparent in the leg colour of Great White Egret Ardea alba. The first individual I looked at seemed to show the yellow tibia of nominate race, albeit more limited in extent than in that taxon. A second bird later in the afternoon showed pinkish-greyish in the tibia which somehow manged to appear yellow in direct sunlight. Neither individual had the requisite bulk of alba, and both birds are presumed to simply be modesta that have retained a few traces of breeding plumage (including e.g. bluer lores). Winter modesta typically have greyish tibia, though occasionally this may appear greenish, and yellow-green lores.

Not the best of weekends, then, but some photos nevertheless. With the migration now done and dusted, the long dark of winter beckons, and I just hope I can pin down some gulls some time earlier than next February! Above photos taken at various locations, Tainan and Chiayi Counties 1-3/12/17.

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