It’s that time of year when we see thousands of birds arrive on the shores of Strangford Lough from Northern and Eastern Europe, seeking milder winter weather. What might yet become the highlight of this year’s migration season is the first ever sighting of a Cattle Egret right at the heart of the wetlands at Castle Espie.
The Cattle Egret, a bird who comes from the same family as herons and storks is normally found in Western Asia, Africa, the Americas and only as far North as Portugal and Italy. Although they are starting to visit the U.K in increasing numbers, it is very rare that the species is sighted in Northern Ireland.
Normally in autumn we welcome plenty of visiting Little Egret to Strangford Lough and just last week, there was also a first ever sighting of a Great White Egret on the peninsula saltmarsh at Castle Espie. The Cattle Egret is much smaller than both of these egrets but is equally as stunning. Its name comes from the tendency for it to perch on top of livestock, from where it likes to dive down and grab insects and worms which the cattle’s hooves disturb.
Spotted on the shingle bank at Castle Espie, the Cattle Egret is clearly distinguishable from the black beaks of the visiting Little Egret by its beautifully bright yellow beak.
Speaking about the rare bird sighting at Castle Espie, Paul Stewart, Centre Manager at Castle Espie Wetland Centre said: “ Wetlands are important habitats which provide stop-offs which support the migration of many bird species.”
“Being located on the shores of Strangford Lough, the wetlands at Castle Espie are well accustomed to welcoming all sorts of regular migrating birds, ducks and geese in autumn, including over 75% of the world’s population of Light-bellied Brent Goose. The rare sighting of a Cattle Egret is very exciting.”
“Recording a rare sighting such as this is a clear indication of the importance of wetland habitat in attracting migrating birds to Northern Ireland but also a good example of the impact climate change may be having on bird migration patterns.”
If you would like to catch a glimpse of the bird for yourself, join the Bird Watching Morning at Castle Espie Wetland Centre this Wednesday 28 October. Don’t forget to book your visit before your arrival. Plan your visit and book tickets online www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/castle-espie/.
Image Credit: Stock image from James Lee WWT
For further information please contact Sarah Fisher, Marketing and Communications Manager:Sarah.Fisher@wwt.org.uk