Cattle Egret – New to Frodsham Marsh
After successfully twitching the 1st-winter Citrine Wagtail at Conwy on the 22nd of August thanks to a generous lift off my dad, I arranged to go back the next day with my mate Scott Reid in order to try to obtain some half decent pictures of the bird. When news broke later that evening of a fully winged Marbled Duck at Frodsham Marsh in Cheshire, I was admittedly intrigued. Despite being relegated, probably for eternity, to the doldrums of Category D, I’ve always thought that a wild Marbled Duck might one day be proven by stable isotope analysis or even, dare I hope, by bearing a Spanish ring. If the species was by some miracle proven to occur wild in the UK, then the BOURC would be forced to review and possibly accept past records. In my opinion the bird had fairly decent credentials, occurring in late August when drought induced dispersal from Iberia would be most likely. In other words it was a classic insurance tick and well worth the short detour on route from Stockport to Conwy. I was also intrigued to check out the habitat at Frodsham as despite the array of great birds that have turned up over the years, I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve never paid the site a visit. Little did I know quite how much of an eye opener this visit would be…
We arrived at Frodsham shortly before 7am and we’re greeted by top Cheshire birder Mark Payne. He had just finished checking the flock of c500 Teal on the main lake with no success. We therefore headed round to the small pool where the bird was seen to roost yesterday evening but drew a blank here as well. As we had plenty of time we decided to head back down the entrance track and check the Teal on the main lake again. After a few minutes Scott located the Marbled Duck and we proceeded to enjoy great views as it headed towards us from the far side of the lake emerging onto the muddy shore in front of us. The bird was truly stunning with its gorgeous marbled plumage and its larger size and sleek structure made it really stand out from the accompanying Teal. The bird posed for a few record shots and showed that it was at least fully winged, stretching before flying off right with a couple of Teal.
We headed back along the track towards the area where it was first found hoping to relocate the bird and achieve better views. As we were walking along the track Scott and I simultaneously picked up a small egret flying towards us from the direction of Frodsham Score. Immediately alarm bells in my brain began to ring; the bird appeared really compact, short-winged and short-legged in flight and I quickly asked Mark if it was just a Little before getting my bins on it. Mark dismissed it as a Little but as soon as I was on it I knew that my instincts had been right! I immediately saw the short yellow bill and realised at once that I was watching a Cattle Egret!!! I quickly expressed this thought to the other two, screaming the words cattle and egret several times in rapid succession. Scott instantly agreed however Mark was a second slow and only caught the arse end of the bird as it headed off over No. 6 tank. We all stopped and stared at each in disbelief for a moment with me and Scott reassuring Mark that the bird definitely was what we were saying. Mark quickly decided this was a bird worth chasing and bolted after it down the track with me hot on his tail. Scott, managing to keep his composure rather more effectively than us, dashed in the other direction to get his camera from the car. I managed to periodically keep track of the bird in flight, giving a running commentary on its position to Mark who was sprinting ahead.
Fortunately as we reached an area with a good view across the main lake the bird circled round and landed on the scaffolding on one of the water towers. Scope on it and BOOM, there it was a self-found Cattle Egret and a stonking adult summer bird at that! I quickly fired off a (few for the record) phone-scoped shots before allowing myself to relax slightly. Scott soon arrived with his DSLR and after more shots were acquired and the news put out to both locals and the news services, the joy of the find began to wash over me and Scott. When I first picked it up Cattle Egret was one of the furthest birds from my mind and the whole episode goes to show that while you can put yourself in the right place, rarities are always found at unexpected moments, mostly by sheer dumb luck. Apparently the bird was only the 6th or 7th record for Cheshire and only the 3rd twitchable so it was particularly gratifying that almost everyone who wanted to see it managed to catch up with it over the course of its day long stay.
The rest of the day didn’t quite have the same glow to it as we learned that the Marbled Duck was sporting a rather fetching red ring making it an almost definite escape. To add insult to injury the Citrine Wagtail had apparently departed overnight making our trip to Conwy a complete waste of time. Despite these facts Scott and I were still buzzing on the way home as we rehashed the awesome moments when we first picked up the Cattle Egret drifting towards us. Other than a few large shearwaters off Cornwall and a Quail in Norfolk, this is the first rare bird I’ve ever found and it more than lived up to my expectations. That feeling of pure elation at a completely unexpected find truly is the stuff birding dreams are made of. The find also showed the incredible potential of Frodsham to pull in good birds and I can safely say that this won’t be my last visit to the site! A cracking day that I certainly won’t forget in a long time!
Not a bad first ever visit to Frodsham Marsh for Liam and Scott! Both hopefully will savour a few more memories in years to come and follow this find up with a Squacco Heron next time? Eds.
Images: Liam Langley/Scott Reid, Mark Payne, Colin Davis, Patrick Earith, WSM