A visit to Egret Island.

“Just why exactly did I give up the glamorous world of ringing for twitching all those years ago?”
It was a question worth pondering as I crawled on my belly through a fetid carpet of fresh goose droppings, dried musty egret guano and many more unmentionable things on the island on Southport Marine Lake this afternoon with Pete Fearon Snr.
Lifting your head more than a few inches off the dusty deck meant a face full of Sea Buckthorn branches and briars – this was not easy terrain, but it made a change on a Saturday afternoon…

Pete, of South West Lancs Ringing Group, had asked about ringing the young egrets in the growing colony, so wearing my new Green Sefton engagement officer hat (now liberally coated in egret poop) I contacted the lake operations manager, Steve Irwin, and lake concessionaire Colin Poole, who were happy to help out.
We visited this afternoon more as a recce than a full on ringing exercise.

Once dropped off by boatman Elliot (thanks Elliot!) it was clear that at least 20 young Little Egrets had fledged already, and were not going to be particularly approachable.
They peered down at us with adults from the canopy as we tried to push through the scrub to the centre of the island, where several nests (given away in the tangle of branches by the white spattering of random Little Egret latrines), still contained unfledged young.
We ringed four of the youngsters.
Should anyone come across them in the future, the ring sequences are GV52570 thro’ to 73.

There were numerous nesting platforms in the dense Sea Buckthorn scrub – possibly as many as 30, but many were unoccupied.
What was surprising was the number of dead egrets – at least 11 were hanging from the branches or on the floor of the central part of the colony.

It was hard to say what had caused the mortality – there was no obvious sign of injury on the bodies, some were nearly fully fledged, others much younger.
Perhaps the high winds last week had blown them out of the nests?
The dense vegetation meant it was not possible to walk to the top end of the island, where many more egrets were perched up, so the most accurate means of assessing overall numbers in the colony remains counting from the Prom with ‘scopes for the time being.
That said, today’s visit will hopefully lead to a wider programme of work with the egrets – more details on that in the future, but after an hour or two it was time to organise our escape from Egret Island aboard the good ship Very Small Indeed….

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