Monday, 11 April 2011

Western Reef Egret

The Western Reef Egret, Egretta gularis, is a stocky, medium-sized heron that hails from the coastal waters of the Middle East and tropical Africa. The name implies that there must also be an Eastern Reef Egret, Egretta sacra, which is similar, but with noticeably shorter legs and less contrast between the legs and yellow feet. Abiding by the suggestion of its name, the Eastern Reef Egret is to be found in South-east Asia, Japan and Australasia.
Both species have light, dark and intermediate colour morphs. The dark morph is the more common and shows a white streak on its throat. The streak is less noticeable in the Eastern species.
In most cases the two species would not come into contact with each other. The most easterly of the Western Reef Egrets can be found as a remote population on the east coast of India (this population and the Sri Lankan birds may yet cause a taxonomic dilemma). The Eastern Reef Egrets’ westernmost population lives on the Andaman Islands, 1300kms across the Bay of Bengal (again, tick it in pencil).
In common with other egret species, the Western Reef Egret develops breeding plumage that includes elongated plumes on its back and hind neck. They breed in small colonies, often with other heron species. They are seldom seen far inland and prefer to feed on fish and crustaceans along rocky shores and beaches.
The individuals in the photographs were found in the Middle East where the schistacea race (also known as the Indian Reef Egret) occurs. The light morph bird was seen in Safa Park, Dubai 2011 and the dark one in Doha, Qatar 2008. Note the feet of the darker bird, they are rosy from the ankles down onto the feet, but yellow beneath.
The nominate race E. g. gularis is described from West Africa and has made recent forays to the USA, although it has yet to visit the UK.