My six-month European bird-watching experience continued with a visit to a very different habitat on the French Mediterranean coast, the Camargue. Most famous, perhaps, for its flamingoes (Greater flamingo, Phoenicopterus ruber). this largest of Western European river deltas offers a wide range of birds of all kinds, especially waders, and in just two one-day visits I saw many species that were either new to me or that I hadn’t see for forty years or more. However, for purposes of comparison with Turrialba, Costa Rica, I’m going to limit myself here to looking briefly at the herons.
Our local speciality, breeding at the CATIE agronomous research centre, is the Boat-billed heron (Cochlearius cochlearius), but no European heron is even remotely similar.
At home in San Antonio, 11 km up the mountain from CATIE, herons are quite scarce, while waders are practically non-existent. Here is a quick look at the six species that I found in the Camargue this summer. The Grey heron (Ardea cinerea) is the most widespread species and also the largest. It is very similar to our Great blue heron (Ardea herodias), as can be seen from the following photos, and is rather easily recognisable.
Only slightly smaller is the Great white egret (Egretta alba), which is the same species as our Common or Great egret, and which is distinguished from the Little egret (Egretta garzetta) by the colour of the bill and the feet. We do the same in Costa Rica to distinguish between the Common or Great egret and the Snowy egret (Egretta thula). However, our Snowy egret, despite its distinctive yellow feet, is not the same species as the European Little egret. Here are the latter two for comparison purposes.
A species from the Old World that is now found throughout the Americas is the Cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis). It is relatively common in the Camargue but seems to have extended its range more successfully in the Americas than in the Old World, from where it came.
The last two species from the Camargue are the Purple heron (Ardea purpurea) and the Squacco heron (Ardeola ralloides). Each is fairly easy to identify. The former looks perhaps like a miniature Great blue heron, though it is still a fair-sized bird at 31 in. The Squacco heron is a little smaller than the Cattle egret but seems mostly tawny-coloured except in flight.
Finally, you might notice from my list the absence of the Green heron (Butorides virescens), the commonest species in our area of Costa Rica, and of night herons. Europe’s Night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) is in fact our Black-crowned night-heron, but I was unable to find it in the brief time I spent in the Camargue, while the Green heron is not found in the Old World.
All photos courtesy of Karel Straatman. Missing photos soon to be added.