Needless to say, this sighting caused shockwaves throughout the Ontario birding scene, and quite a few local birders were able to observe the bird throughout the afternoon and evening of June 2nd. Many of us, myself included, had to wait until the following morning to try for the bird. Needless to say, we didn't see the bird on June 3....no one did, except for Ben right at 6:00 AM at the same location, before the bird flew away. It was a long drive back.
The Little Egret played hide and seek over the next few weeks, turning up sporadically in various locations in the Ottawa area on June 7, 8, and 17. Unfortunately, being tied up with fieldwork in the north, I was unable to chase the bird on any of these occasions. And even for those who were lucky enough to try for it, many returned home disappointed after. With my next month or so looking extremely busy, it looked like I would be unable to chase the egret until August, though there was no guarantee that it would turn up again.
Yesterday morning, I was completing some surveys in the Hamilton area when word came about that a photographer had rediscovered the egret at a new location - this time, Andrew Haydon Park along the Ottawa River. I had plans to fly to Thunder Bay the following morning, and I had a busy day planned of report writing and packing once returning home from my Hamilton surveys. Needless to say, I said screw it to my priorities and began driving to Ottawa! The only guarantee in birding is that if you don't chase the bird you won't see it. It was a risk worth taking in my opinion!
Barb Charlton, who had missed the bird twice already, was also in the Toronto area for work. It did not take much convincing before she decided to join me. We left my ailing car in Oshawa (I'm in the market for a new one) and I jumped in her vehicle. The four hour drive to Ottawa was completed in just over 3 hours. We would have been even quicker if it were not for the higher than usual amount of people slowly putting along in the fast lane.
Bruce Di Labio, a long-time Ottawa birder (and the father of Ben, who had found the bird while Bruce was in Alberta) was keeping tabs on the bird and providing frequent updates on the bird's status. Luckily for us, it appeared content to feed and preen in the shallow bay at the west end of Andrew Haydon Park. Finally, we pulled in to the parking area around 3:00 PM, and met Bruce along the trail leading to where the egret was. He had grim news - it had literally JUST flown, moments before our arrival, and no one knew where it was. Fortunately for us, however, I looked up and spotted a small white egret flying away from us - it was the bird!
The Little Egret eventually returned to its favored bay, and Bruce, Barb and I joined a group of about a dozen birders to watch and photograph it. It was a little too far for good photos given my camera set up, but with some heavy cropping they are serviceable and show the pertinent ID features.
Compared to Snowy Egret, Little Egret shows gray lores, while Snowy Egret has bright yellow lores this time of year. Little Egret also has stringy breast plumes, and in breeding plumage two long head plumes. When the Little Egret was originally found it sported these two plumes, but they had since broken off. Everything else about the bird looks the same as when Ben found it.
Back in 2011 I made two blog posts highlighting the 20 bird species I considered most likely to be new additions to the Ontario checklist. I did not see Thick-billed Kingbird, Kelp Gull, Brown Booby or Elegant Tern coming, but had predicted Little Egret....not a great batting average though! Looking back at that list, there are definitely a few that have my scratching my head why I picked them...
Needless to say the long drive back to Toronto was a little less painful this time around after the sweet success of the egret. What will be the next big rarity for Ontario this year, after the incredible spring we have just had?