Date: 11/7/18 8:52 am
From: Derb Carter <derbc...>
Subject: Watauga County egret
Some of us have been discussing the white egret found and well-photographed yesterday in Watauga County by Guy McGrane (photos on ebird checklist). It was initially identified as a Cattle Egret and then a Great Egret. After the photos were posted, Jeff Pippen first asked how to eliminate Intermediate Egret, other than it would be an extraordinary record for this South Asia/African species (although it is migratory - and it is also out of place especially this time of year in Watauga County). Some, including me, who have looked at the photos carefully, note that it just does not look right for a Great Egret: bill is stout and wrong shape for Great, bill color not exactly right for Great, legs gray instead of black, and another important field mark I will get to in a minute. You cannot tell size from the photos with nothing to compare, but the observer initially described it as small thinking it was a Cattle Egret. Intermediate Egrets, as the name implies, are between Great and Little/Snowy in size. I have seen many in Asia where it is common and identifiable by size alone. Field guides discuss a key field mark to distinguish Great from Intermediate, and Guy has provided good photos to work with. The gape of the bill of Intermediate Egret extends back to below the eye, while the gape of Great Egret extends well beyond the eye. This is a very obvious and consistent field mark in searching photos of both species, and diagramed in the Wikipedia entry on Intermediate Egret if you are interested in checking this out. To my eye, the gape of the bill in the Watauga egret in all the photos in the series stops below the eye, suggesting it may be an Intermediate Egret. But the posture of the bird in the photos and feathering may obscure the gape, but I lean to it not being obscured and extending only to below the eye. Intermediate Egret would of course be an extraordinary record for NC and the eastern US. I have not even had a chance to look at North American records, but I seem to recall there are records for Alaska. At this point, I just wanted to get this information out while we continue to puzzle over the photos, and especially invite any with experience with Intermediate Egret to weigh in. And thanks to Guy for the excellent photos.

Derb Carter

 
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