The Way I See Things



I thought I'd take a trip out to Whelford Pools today, to see if I could catch up with the vagrant juvenile Purple Heron that turned up there about ten days ago. Knowing how small the car park is, I anticipated some parking stress, but when I arrived there were only half a dozen other cars there and I parked with no trouble. The hide was reasonably full, but not crowded, and an owling friend who'd arrived about an hour earlier immediately and kindly gave up his seat to me. The bird was hidden in reeds at this stage, but B assured me it would reappear very soon, and it duly did, stalking slowly across the marshy area between the hide and the reed fringe, and pausing for a while to preen. After I'd rattled off a hundred or so frames my battery ran out, which was when I realised that I'd left all my spares at home. Though I was irritated with myself for breaking what must surely be the number one rule of wildlife photography, I knew I had a decent number of sharp images already, so it wasn't really any hardship to leave the bench and the car park to the slow but steady stream of new arrivals. I was home by noon, with this "lifer" safely in the bag.

The western race of Purple Herons breeds in temperate areas of Europe, from France and the Netherlands north and east as far as Khazakhstan, and south and east through Turkey into North Africa. In autumn these northern birds migrate southwards, to winter with the sedentary breeding populations of West Africa. In spring they return northwards, and most of the individuals we see in the UK are overshoots on this spring migration. This unfortunate first winter bird was blown off its southern migration in the recent storm, and as ever in these circumstances I find myself fearing for it: presumably it won't thrive through a Gloucestershire winter, but unless it moves off back into Europe very soon it's unlikely to find a migratory group it can join up with. One of the reasons I don't "twitch" very often is this sense I have that the tick on my list often marks a personal disaster for the creature concerned.

Purple Herons are smaller and slighter than Grey Herons (with which they will mingle, and have been reported to hybridize), but larger than Bitterns. They're wetland specialists, favouring marshy areas like this rather than open water, and the slow downward movement of their numbers in Europe over the second half of the C20th was mainly due to the drainage of wetlands for agriculture. Where suitable habitat has been restored, their numbers have recovered. Though reports of occasional breeding in the UK are unconfirmed, with the climate changing and some European bird populations now pushing northwards there's a suggestion that in time the Purple Heron might become common here, as has now happened with the Great Egret.

If you'd like to know more about this species, Birdfact has both good information and excellent photos. Heron Conservation is a bit wordy, but also worth a look. And my absolutely favourite photo of an adult Purple Heron in its glorious breeding plumage - though looking rather glum, I have to say - is the headline image at eBird.

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