Great Egrets with red legs and Little Egrets with black toes!

With apologies to Frank Sinatra: “Egrets – I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention…”

Apart from checking for Chinese, I mostly ignore egrets as ‘background’ to the main show. However, the last few visits to the mudflats at the Teluk Air Tawar – Kuala Muda IBA, I have come across some interesting ones.

Great Egret_TAT_KM IBA_150813_IMG_4720 Great Egret_TAT_KM IBA_150813_IMG_4715On 15 August, I found this Great Egret in full breeeding colours, even down to the red-flushed legs. I saw one in this condition back in February not far from here, so it makes me wonder whether they’ve been nesting nearby. So far the species has not been recorded breeding in Peninsular Malaysia, but other egrets, like Little and Intermediate, have begun doing so in recent years, so perhaps Great is following the trend.

Great Egret_TAT_KM IBA_150813_IMG_4709Great Egret_TAT_KM IBA_150813_IMG_4721Here it is with one in non-breeding plumage – or is it perhaps a juvenile? I’m not sure I would know one if I saw it.

Little Egret_TAT_220813_IMG_3276On 22 August, I realized that one of the Little Egrets feeding in front of me appeared to have black toes (the bird on the right).

Little Egret_TAT_220813_IMG_3271 Little Egret_TAT_220813_IMG_3267It was difficult to see the precise extent because of the mud sticking to them, but most of the upper side of the toes seemed black, with just the soles being dirty yellow.

Little Egret_TAT_220813_IMG_3293 copyThe nigripes race (which has black toes) could occur as a vagrant here from Java and further south. A probable nigripes has been photographed in Singapore, and the toes of this bird look comparable. Wells notes that  “much scarcer [than yellow-toed] black-toed birds [have been] recorded north to … Perak. These may be subspecies nigripes … of island SE Asia and beyond.” However, he adds a cautionary note: “but juvenile nominate garzetta could also lack yellow, and foot versus face colours need checking.”

The Singapore bird had bright yellow facial skin, and Rob Inglis’s post on the foot colour of Australian Little Egrets shows that this is a consistent feature of nigripes in all plumages. The bird I saw on 22 Aug was clearly a juvenile, so probably just a normal young garzetta. On 29 Aug I watched a flock of about 10 Little Egrets at Teluk Air Tawar, and a good many of them had blackish toes, making it still less likely that these are vagrant nigripes.

Strange that I’ve not noticed this in previous years – but perhaps there are more juveniles around these days? I must start looking at egrets more carefully!


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