Thursday, May 09, 2013

Suburban Cattle Egret

    A recurring back "issue" has limited my birding opportunities, so the following event was gratefully received.
      I was returning from watching granddaughter Caitlyn play soccer, and driving up Gordon's Hill Rd., a suburban 'link' road between Bellerive and Lindisfarne, two of the Hobart's largest Eastern Shore suburbs, when something white and moving on the roadside caught my eye. As I passed I realised it was an egret and  possibly a photo opportunity, but I was in a stream of traffic and stopping was just not on. "I'll take the next right and come back up the hill" and then proceeded to get lost in the labyrinth of back roads and I was beginning to get both frustrated and agitated as time ticked by. Finally, I got back onto to the main road, by now fully expecting that the 'bird had flown'. But I was in luck and stopped briefly to take a few shots from the car, only for the bird to be disturbed by a jogger, fortuitously flying up a side street, I followed and took the accompanying images.
     The 'egret" is in fact a Cattle Egret and as its' name implies, is more at home in the paddocks catching insects disturbed by stock than feeding in suburban front gardens. It had obviously found an untapped food resource, catching insects, probably grasshoppers, as it made its' way from one garden to the next, and there seemed to be no lack of available food. At one point it crouched and stalked an unseen prey, much in the way cats do, and after a swift jab, came up with a hapless skink, dispatching it in a trice.
       Cattle Egrets are mainly winter visitors to Tasmania, and are occasionally seen in flocks numbering in the hundreds, especially so in the North West of the state and on King Island. Here in southern Tasmania the flocks are usually modest in size, often a dozen or less. Although their name implies an association with cattle, they are also found in association with both sheep and horses, or indeed just feeding in grasslands or around lagoons.

     About 30 years ago, it was confidently assumed that they would soon start breeding here in Tasmania, particularly on King Island and along the Northeast coast, but this hasn't yet occurred. If you look at the way this species has colonised Australia in the past 70 years, beginning in the 1940s in the Northern Territory, I think I can confidently predict that it will eventually become a breeding resident of this state.


Unknown said...

Well spotted! It is that time of year when I also start keeping a look out for Cattle egrets.

Dalaharp said...

I saw few (3) for the first time (in 6 years) two weeks ago in a paddock on Tasman Peninsula on way to Shipstern Bluff.