OK, I admit it: I was jealous when I saw the photo that accompanied our recent story about Harbor Island's inclusion in the fourth edition of the Audubon Society’s biennial State of the Birds report. Jay Karr captured an image of two young reddish egrets, which are not common here and which I had never seen in person.
I knew how to fix that, though.
I met John Albert, a Fripp Island Audubon Club member and former Harbor Island Property Owners Association president, not long after launching this blog, during an event at the Port Royal Cypress Wetlands. He invited me to Harbor for a S.C. Department of Natural Resources program on horseshoe crabs back in May and has sent along various newsletters he helps produce since then. He told me if I ever wanted to come out to Harbor to see birds, just give him a ring.
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Harbor is a late-summer and early-fall stopover for all sorts of birds, which halt their migration and fill the sandbars, ponds and shores of the island. Three reddish egrets are among those paying a visit this season, which in itself is noteworthy, since in most places, the birds are permanent residents, according to the Audubon website profile of the species.
In fact, Audubon calls the reddish egret “the rarest and least well-known of the North American herons. Unlike slower-moving hunters in its family, this egret is notable for its spirited foraging techniques.”
Albert can attest to that: He often gets calls from beachcombers who want to report drunk birds prancing around on the south end of Harbor’s beach.
The birds are neither inebriated, nor sick.
Rather than wait quietly for a meal to swim past or stealthily stalking its prey, the reddish egret less stomp all over the shallows while flapping its wings, rousing its target from the bottom, then using his shadow to corral it. The dance is frenetic and entertaining, and my wife and I stood with Albert for about 20 minutes observing as Harbor’s three visitors worked a rivulet on the falling tide. I could kick myself for not taking video of the display, but I hope the photos in the gallery above suffice. If not, check out these YouTube search results.
To learn more about this species, including its white morph variety, you can also go to this Cornell Lab or Ornithology article.