It was dusk, the end of the day (12/22). It had been overcast most of the day with only a brief peek of sunshine at mid day. The rain started about 3 PM, cats and dogs at times, and continued until closing.
At 4:50 PM the outdoor exhibits were clear except for one family watching the bears in Explore the Wild. I had already stationed myself at the head of the Dinosaur Trail to wait for the folks in Explore the Wild and to inform any other visitors of our imminent closing.
It was unusually dark. The thick clouds and low sun (I couldn’t see the sun but by this time of day it’s usually on the horizon) made for a very dark afternoon. Out of the corner of my eye, and through the trees, I noticed a large white bird circling over the Wetlands. There was a mist hanging over the water, limiting my view. I couldn’t see clearly and thought that perhaps the bird was just the local Great Blue Heron, having taken on a ghostly luminance due to the fog. But this bird was much too bright and it didn’t have any dark feathers that I could see, great blues have a two-toned appearance.
The bird landed in a tree on the far northeast side of the Wetlands. I was excited. I had to go see what this bird was. I thought that it might be a Great White Heron, a white form or morph of the Great Blue Heron found in South Florida and the Caribbean.
Why would I even entertain the thought that a bird found only in southern Florida would be here, at the Museum? Well, there’s been a Great White Heron seen on a regular basis for well over a month just a few miles north of the Museum on the Eno River. So, I wasn’t completely out of my mind to think, “Great White Heron.”
I tried to get a few pictures of the bird from the top of the boardwalk, but it was too dark and too far away. I had to get closer. I jumped into the golf cart and drove down to Explore the Wild (5 MPH), stopping in front of the Lemur House. The heron had switched perches and was now standing in a sycamore just feet from the secondary Wetlands Overlook. I fumbled for my binoculars, my camera, I had to get a shot of this bird.
Now that I was close to the bird I could see that it was not a Great White Heron after all. It was a Great Egret. I’ve seen Great Egrets here before and both Leslie Fann (HR) and Nathan Swick (formerly Reservations) have reported seeing them as well, but those birds were all flyby’s. This one had landed in the Wetlands and by it’s behavior, it appeared as though it was planning on spending the night.
Up until the time that the egret showed up it had been a fairly lackluster day. Oh sure, there was a Yellow-bellied Slider out basking in the partial sun of early afternoon and I did get to watch and listen to the Red Wolves howl at some far distant fire truck or ambulance siren, but not much else was going on, wildlife-wise that is. The egret brightened up what had turned out to be a gloomy end of the day. It got the adrenaline going. And even though it wasn’t a Great White Heron, it was still a “good” bird by any standards. Great Egrets are listed as “Very Rare” in our area at this time of year.
Thanks Great Egret!