“While exploring the island of Pulau Tioman [Malaysia] in early August 2011, it was a pleasure to observe and document the fishing activity of Pacific Reef Egrets (Egretta sacra, dark morphs) along the coast. They were most active at the lowest tides, when the reef flat was partially exposed, and the waters were relatively shallower, so fish prey was readily seen and within comfortable striking range.
“One evening, as the sun was setting over the South China Sea, the tide was progressively going out, leaving a labyrinth of still, isolated pools among the coral rubble. A Pacific Reef Egret then took advantage of this scenario and scouted around for its dinner of fish and shrimp that may have become temporarily trapped within these pools (above left).
“A brief video of its steady focus and successful strikes was captured:
“One morning, as the tide was gradually turning and starting to creep inshore, a Pacific Reef Egret was up and about in search of breakfast. Although it did spend some time hunting among the isolated pools, it was mostly stalking along the outer margin of the reef flat, which was receiving a steady surge of the oncoming waves. Despite the turbulent waters along this zone, fishing efforts were often fruitful (top right). The diversity of fish prey was observed to include gobies, blennies and wrasses.
“Its lively pursuit of breakfast may be previewed below.
“At one point, it paused briefly to preen itself, before resuming its fishing efforts.
“Another Pacific Reef Egret then came onto the scene, and the two of them hunted for fish within close proximity:
“Seeking out slippery fish and spearing them accurately when the water’s surface is constantly shifting and sloshing about must be visually challenging indeed. Quick judgments of depth and distance have to be calculated without the slightest hesitation. It is admirable how the Pacific Reef Egrets can hunt so well along this stretch. For a peek at the Pacific Reef Egret’s perspective, please see below.
“Apart from the dark morph egrets, a white morph was also briefly sighted along this stretch of reef, but it remained elusive and merely teased us with fleeting glimpses of it flying off into the horizon. Having previously monitored the fishing behaviour of the Pacific Reef Egret along a sterile, suburban canal in Singapore, being able to witness them in their true element in their natural habitat (with wind in our hair, salt in nostrils, sand between toes) is utterly gratifying!
Dr Leong Tzi Ming & Subaraj Rajathurai
14th August 2011