Chinese Egret Foraging Amongst Waves

“The Chinese Egret (Egretta eulophotes), a globally threatened species, was encountered recently. It is an uncommon winter visitor in Singapore.

“I was at Changi Beach Park when a white egret was spotted in the distance. It was being chased by a crow just metres above the sea (above). After shaking off the crow, it landed on the serene beach and proceeded to forage at a leisurely pace. Walking nearer, I had a feeling that it could be a Chinese Egret in non-breeding plumage. Identifying a non-breeding Chinese Egret is fraught with problems due to its similar appearance with the Little Egret and Pacific Reef Egret LINK. However, there are subtle differences between the species. Some useful identification features can be found in this comparison of the non-breeding Chinese and Pacific Reef egrets: LINK. Based on this and my previous encounter with this species, this bird should be a non-breeding Chinese Egret.

“This Chinese Egret surprised me by choosing to forage amongst the raging waves and not on the undisturbed sand (above and below). The sea was heavy with waves at that time, and the incoming waves, clearly visible in the images, were not small. Ignoring the fury of the waves, the egret seemed comfortable and simply strolled amongst the waves as it foraged for preys brought in by the water. At times, the crests of waves reached above the egret’s knees, but it continued to forage confidently in the choppy water. It was quite a sight to see the egret’s behaviour.

“During its hunt, there were times when it froze momentarily in a stealth-like pose, and times when it paused with neck fully stretched and straightened. These postures, I presumed, would enable the egret to optimise its focus on a potential prey, depending on whether it was near or far. Most of the time, the hunt yielded nothing; either the bird did not see clearly or the prey may have slipped away. The egret would then resume its foraging along the coast. Another hunting posture that was observed was the egret slanting its head to one side to glance into the water.

“During the 15 minutes that the bird was there, only two successful strikes were observed. With the target locked in sight, the egret retracted its neck backwards, preparing for the strike. In one lightning move, it executed its strike by lunging its head forward (above). The water hardly made a splash as its long pointed bill entered into the water. Almost immediately, its bill was withdrawn out of the water. As I was at least 10 metres away, what it caught was too small and too fast to be seen. But it was captured by the camera. The image showed a small fry clamped in between its long mandibles (below). It wasted no time to gulp down its lunch without further ado.”

Kwong Wai Chong
Singapore
28th February 2013

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