I always thought great white egrets lived in Florida, close to the sun and the alligators, brightening up the Everglades. However, in recent years, they have discovered Canada and now enthusiastically populate the wetlands. I had never seen a live egret until one day, a decade or so ago, I spotted a strange white giant standing around in the beaver pond.
Excitement reigned as I got out the bird book and identified the visitor. It must be lost. Driven north by some hurricane. Could it digest our kind of frogs?
Yet, eventually, another one showed up. Then, over the years, more and more until it is nothing to see twenty or thirty of them standing around fishing or in a spectacular flock, white wings lit by the setting sun. My beaver pond plays host to plenty of them and they roost in trees, an odd sight, for the night.
They are hard to get close to except for a small pond along the road where they are habituated to traffic and won’t fly off if you don’t get out of your car. There is competition among photographers for the viewing spot but I got their first one morning. Despite the smallness of this body of water, it has been crammed with egrets for weeks. There must be an incredible amount of food in the depths to support this ongoing egret buffet. I saw many of them scoffing down frogs or small fish so the attractions of the place show no sign of waning as yet.
The arrival of these glamorous birds could be a result of expanding numbers or of climate change making northern reaches more attractive. Egrets were sadly depleted in the 19th century when masses were killed for their feathers. The mania for decorated hats wreaked havoc on colourful avians all over the world at that time but that’s another fascinating tale. Our abandonment of formal head gear has proved a relief for bird populations everywhere.
So the great white egrets join a number of other creatures never seen in this neck of the woods in my childhood: turkey vultures, wild turkeys, eagles, the exploding deer populations, beavers, fishers, coyotes, etc. Might be climate change, might be my own lack of observation or more likely busy Mother Nature reclaiming abandoned farm fields, flooding wetlands and restoring her own folk to new homes she is providing.