Egrets and Grey Herons

by Robin Fuller May. 05, 2020 135 views

Little egrets and Grey herons are species of the heron family. Herons are tall, long-legged, long-billed wading birds, found in wetlands all over the world. They feed on fish, crabs, shrimps, frogs, small mammals and even young birds. Their neck vertebrae are hinged in a way which allows them to spear a fish with amazing speed.

Herons and egrets are usually colonial, nesting in the tops of trees. Both species breed in a heronry on the east bank of the River Axe, opposite the Seaton Wetlands.

Egrets have an all white plumage and elongated head plumes - once used in the millenery and clothing trades.

A Heron stands tall for a view among the reeds

A Heron stands tall for a view among the reeds

This Heron stealthily crouches as it searches the reedbed for food.

This Heron stealthily crouches as it searches the reedbed for food.

A Heron flies between hunting spots in the Seaton reedbed.

A Heron flies between hunting spots in the Seaton reedbed.

This Heron is actually swimming in the Exeter Canal, though only for a few metres.

This Heron is actually swimming in the Exeter Canal, though only for a few metres.

A heron poised for a strike.

A heron poised for a strike.

The following sequence shows a Heron striking for a European Eel, catching and landing it, to begin the process of taking down this wriggly, slippery meal.

It was photographed from a distance which exceeded the useful reach of the 55-300mm zoom Nikon lens but it is interesting nonetheless as a study of Heron behaviour.

The Heron was fishing in the pond in front of the Classroom Hide at Seaton. It leant forward and tensed up. I knew it had seen a potential victim and was preparing to spear it. Camera at the ready!

The Heron was fishing in the pond in front of the Classroom Hide at Seaton. It leant forward and tensed up. I knew it had seen a potential victim and was preparing to spear it. Camera at the ready!

A quick lunge and the victim was caught.

A quick lunge and the victim was caught.

As the bird lifted its head, it was clear it had caught an Eel.

As the bird lifted its head, it was clear it had caught an Eel.

Rather than risk trying to turn the Eel head first to swallow it over water, where it might wriggle free and escape, the Heron started to make its way to dry ground.

Rather than risk trying to turn the Eel head first to swallow it over water, where it might wriggle free and escape, the Heron started to make its way to dry ground.

A flap of the wings to help lift it up the pond bank.

A flap of the wings to help lift it up the pond bank.

Heron landed, Eel landed. An almost prehistoric pose from the Heron.

Heron landed, Eel landed. An almost prehistoric pose from the Heron.

Moving a bit further from the water, further from the Eel's potential escape.

Moving a bit further from the water, further from the Eel's potential escape.

The Eel is lined up head first, ready to swallow. Moments later it was gone.

The Eel is lined up head first, ready to swallow. Moments later it was gone.

Another Heron demonstrates the tricky process of swallowing an Eel.

The Heron has landed an Eel, which seems to be a favourite food of Herons despite a steep decline in the numbers of European Eels.

The Heron has landed an Eel, which seems to be a favourite food of Herons despite a steep decline in the numbers of European Eels.

The Eel is turned head-first to swallow.

The Eel is turned head-first to swallow.

But the Eel is tying itself in knots to avoid that final fate.

But the Eel is tying itself in knots to avoid that final fate.

Head-first in the Heron's bill, the Eel looks doomed.

Head-first in the Heron's bill, the Eel looks doomed.

Half way down the Heron's gullet, the Eel's fate is sealed.

Half way down the Heron's gullet, the Eel's fate is sealed.

Just the tip of the Eel's tail left to go.

Just the tip of the Eel's tail left to go.

All gone! But you can still see the shape of the Eel in the Heron's gullet, still obviously wriggling and jiggling to escape its grizzly fate.

All gone! But you can still see the shape of the Eel in the Heron's gullet, still obviously wriggling and jiggling to escape its grizzly fate.

But it is not all over? The tail reappears. But for the Eel, that was the last anyone ever saw of it; except of course in outline, still clearly wriggling in the Heron's throat!

But it is not all over? The tail reappears. But for the Eel, that was the last anyone ever saw of it; except of course in outline, still clearly wriggling in the Heron's throat!

There are more pictures of Herons in my posts on Garden birds - large, Inflight entertainment and Birds, water camera, action.

The little egret is a small, white heron that feeds on small fish and crustaceans. Once a rare visitor from the Mediterranean, little egrets are now common around the coasts of southern England and Wales having expanded their range, probably due to climate change.

Little egrets are highly photogenic. Their attractive white plumage with the 'fly-away' feathers on the bird's neck blowing in the wind, make good photographic targets when light conditions are right.

A Little egret perches in an Alder tree showing off its 'fly-away' neck feathers, black legs and bright yellow feet.

A Little egret perches in an Alder tree showing off its 'fly-away' neck feathers, black legs and bright yellow feet.

This little egret stalks the edge of the River Axe estuary in the reflected light of a perfect blue sky.

This little egret stalks the edge of the River Axe estuary in the reflected light of a perfect blue sky.

Is this Little egret really lining up the Grey mullet in the shallows of the River Axe estuary or is it hoping they may disturb smaller fry?

Is this Little egret really lining up the Grey mullet in the shallows of the River Axe estuary or is it hoping they may disturb smaller fry?

Little egrets are always on the move. Five or ten minutes at one fishing spot then, if that fails, move on to another. This means that the impatient photographer like me can soon expect action - a chase, a strike or a bird taking off to fly.

Little egrets are always on the move. Five or ten minutes at one fishing spot then, if that fails, move on to another. This means that the impatient photographer like me can soon expect action - a chase, a strike or a bird taking off to fly.

This egret chases its next meal in the shallows of the wetland scrape.

This egret chases its next meal in the shallows of the wetland scrape.

This egret stabs for prey in an estuarine pool of the River Axe.

This egret stabs for prey in an estuarine pool of the River Axe.

A Little egret shows its beautiful wings as it lands to fish in the wetland scrape at Seaton.

A Little egret shows its beautiful wings as it lands to fish in the wetland scrape at Seaton.

Here is a Little egret with a more typical meal, a Three-spined stickleback, caught in the shallows of the wetland scrape at Seaton.

Here is a Little egret with a more typical meal, a Three-spined stickleback, caught in the shallows of the wetland scrape at Seaton.

This Little egret has caught a shrimp in the wetland scrape.

This Little egret has caught a shrimp in the wetland scrape.

There are more pictures of Little egrets in my posts on 'Inflight entertainment' and Birds, water camera, action.

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Tsao T-F 6 months, 3 weeks ago

Wonderful series!

6 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
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