An unseasonably warm February had brought out pockets of beautiful spring flowers, adding splashes of yellow and purple to the white clusters of snowdrops. Bees buzzed around patches of purple and white heather, and I caught glimpses of my first brimstone, comma and red admiral butterflies of the year. The sky was an impossible shade of azure blue and the afternoon sun cast a warm glow that drew me out of the house and along the river on a rare solo walk.
The parkland was busy with people, dog walkers and kids on bikes enjoying the warm afternoon and open spaces. My attention however was focused on the slowly moving ribbon of water. Its dark surface was dappled with sunlight, and rippled by the movement of waterfowl.
As I crossed the road bridge, a flash of blue and a short sharp whistle signalled a kingfisher zipping along the river beneath me. But it was at eye level that my attention was drawn. Sat on a branch on the right hand side of the river bank was a bird that might perhaps look a little odd sat in a tree. It was pure, dazzling snowy white, with a long pointed, dagger-like bill, and long black legs with feet that looked like they had been dipped in yellow paint so perfect was the demarcation between the two colours. A little egret. While one might expect to see such a bird wading through the shallows of a pool or at the edge of a river, egrets and herons are well at home in the treetops and will nest in such lofty places. Unusual for me was the chance to take photos of such a bird in a tree, at eye level.
A natural coloniser, the little egret was once a bird that bird watchers would flock to (excuse the pun). But since a large influx in 1989, and its first breeding attempt in Dorset in 1993, the species has spread across southern England and Wales. By 2009 there were over 800 pairs breeding.
After a full preen and a stretch, the bird moved from its lofty position and headed up the river. I followed, all be it at a much slower pace, and eventually caught up with it, now feeding along the waters edge. Just up the short bank and people continued to pass, seemingly oblivious to this beautiful bird. I watched from the opposite bank, enthralled as the bird slowly walked around the edge of the river, shaking first one and then the other leg, kicking up fish. Suddenly it would lunge forward, stabbing the dark water and spearing its prey. I watched the bird repeat this process for a good ten minutes before it once again decided to move on, taking flight down the river and leaving me to ramble home in the last rays of light.