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Snowy egret makes rare appearance in Sambro

Snowy egret
Snowy egret

It was as if the stately creature knew it was a rarity to behold, and a roadside Sambro marsh would be a perfect place to attract admirers.

The snowy egret, whose arrival on Sunday marked the fourth such sighting in Nova Scotia this year, accomplished just that.

The weekend sighting sparked a flurry of commotion as photos and a video of the golden slippers bird shot up on the Nova Scotia Bird Society’s Facebook site to massive fanfare.

Diane LeBlanc was one of the lucky birders who caught site of the gorgeous creature, its fluffy snow-white plumage, the slender black legs and golden feet.

“It’s the first time we’ve seen one in this area, in my sort of birding patch,” recalled LeBlanc, a Portuguese Cove resident.

“They’re so gorgeous, so stark white. They’re called the golden slippers bird because of their distinctive legs, all black but their feet are golden.

“When I first spotted it, it was right out in the open, stalking a bit. Then it started to fly off so gracefully and vanished in the marshy grass. It was amazing.”

Ian McLaren, an emeritus professor of biology at Dalhousie University and Nova Scotia Bird Society board member, figured that the egret had arrived from the U.S., perhaps Maine or farther south, simply in search of food.

Although uncommon here, they arrive in Nova Scotia in small numbers during late summer and fall, he said. A member of the heron family, they’re looking to fatten up before migrating south. In fact, years ago snowy egrets attempted unsuccessfully to breed in the province, at Bon Portage Island.

“There’s a wide-open food source here that isn’t otherwise exploited. Instead of flying south, as they will in time, they kind of tend to wander.

“They take advantage of the small fish that inhabit the wetlands near the sea, stickleback, among other fish. But other egrets arrive here, too; the rarest one is the tricoloured heron, quite striking, blue and rusty red and white.”

Its visit coincides with what McLaren calls an invasion of exotic southern U.S. birds that have arrived entirely against their will, putting their lives in grave danger.

There are about 10 species of them, including the hooded warbler, yellow throated vireo and yellow billed cuckoos, that appear doomed in their attempt to migrate south.

“These birds take off from the coast of the Carolinas and head out to sea behind a cold front that moves them offshore, but sometimes they overshoot that front and they get on a strong southwesterly front toward Nova Scotia and get dumped here.”

The majority of them can be found in southern Nova Scotia, in Shelburne and Yarmouth counties.

It presents a haven for passionate birders across the province, but not so much for the birds.

“Some are genetically screwed up and they are mis-orientated and they take off in the wrong direction.”

It’s a phenomenon that happens every year but not often to this degree, said McLaren.

“They’ll make those mistakes more often because of global warming and the increase in storms that flow from tropical areas.”

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