Childhood birdwatching dreams

During my youth birdwatching in the late 1950s and 1960s, my most important book was “A field guide to the birds of Britain and Europe”, by Roger Tory Peterson, Guy Mountford and P.A.D. Hollom (commonly referred to as the “Peterson field guide”. At the time this was the gold standard of identification guides, bought for me by my parents as encouragement for my developing interest in the wild world around me.

The Peterson field guide entry for Little Egret, with its mouthwatering open triangle indicating extreme rarity!

Each species was beautifully illustrated and the text accompanying most illustrations was accompanied by a symbol. If a symbol was lacking, the species had not been recorded in Britain; a filled circle denoted a species that was resident or occurred regularly in the country; an open circle indicated a species that was rare or occurred occasionally; an open triangle indicated a species that had been recorded less than twenty times in the British Islands and was thus regarded as an accidental visitor. For an impressionable youngster, seeing one of the last was the height of ambition but I saw only one – a Greenish Warbler Phylloscopus trochiloides that we caught after driving migrating birds into a Heligoland Trap at Gibraltar Point Bird Observatory on the Lincolnshire coast.

The winter scene at Frensham Little Pond, seen through the branches of an ancient oak tree (Photo\; Chris Feare)

One species that was accompanied by an open triangle in those years was the Little Egret, and thus less than twenty had been recorded in Britain at that time. How things have changed! In several blogs I have mentioned Little Egrets that we have seen in our travels and today, 26 November 2017, Christine and I saw one only a few metres away at Frensham Great Pond in Surrey, while enjoying a walk around both the Great and Little Ponds in winter sunshine. This highly attractive bird has recolonised Britain over the last few decades (it was formerly abundant but became extinct through human consumption for food and its plumage, and climate cooling, from the 16th to 19th centuries).  It is now regularly seen in the southern part of the country and it is continuing its spread northwards. I find photographing them irresistible, so here is another.

The Frensham Little Egret, , 26 November 2017 (Photo: Chris Feare)
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