Monday 25 October 2010


'The Jungle' at the fantastic Lost Gardens of Heligan.

After a relaxing yet rarity-free saunter around Porthgwarra this morning, news filtered through that the GREEN HERON had been spotted at The Lost Gardens of Heligan once again.  The bird had been pretty elusive over the course of the past few days and was not seen yesterday at all until late in the afternoon.  We had met a birding couple in Sennen the previous day who had searched for the bird all day but to no avail.  With plenty of daylight remaining for our own thorough search though, we decided to take a gamble and take the ninety minute drive over towards Mevagissey without delay.

Upon arrival we were told that the transatlantic vagrant was currently showing on the top pond in 'The Jungle' section of the gardens.  After a short stroll through the sun-dappled woodland, past Heligan House and over the western green, we arrived to find a lone photographer rattling off shots.  After a quick glance towards where he was pointing his fat lens, we were soon enjoying the diminutive, first winter GREEN HERON as it fished around the perimeter of the small ornamental pool.   

GREEN HERON (1st winter) - The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Pentewan, Cornwall.
All photographs by Adam Archer

After some tremendous views it was about time that I grabbed a few digiscoped shots of the bird myself. After a quick fumble around the trusty Sco-Pac though I discovered that I had left the camera in the car.... I was gutted.  Luckily a kind-hearted birder stepped in and volunteered to head back to the car park whilst I stayed with the bird.  During this time I started to receive more attention from passing members of the public than the heron was getting.  As the traffic along the narrow boardwalk increased I must have showed at least fifty curious tourists the bird through my scope.  All of them though were as equally impressed with the bird as we were.  I must admit that the looks of wonder on some of their faces were just as satisfying as actually seeing the rarity myself.  I must be going all soft in my old age. 

The GREEN HERON twitch!
Check me out as I'm swathed by curious pensioners.  Some of their facial expressions are priceless.

After about a hour of plucking several small fish from the pond, the bird decided to make a move.  It flew directly towards the crowd of admirers, gained height slightly just a few feet over their heads and headed further down into the well vegetated valley.  As the crowd collectively gasped and finally dispersed, we decided to try to and relocate it.  About fifteen minutes later whilst scanning one of the other ponds I detected a slight movement on a tiny island.  It was the GREEN HERON again and this time we had the bird all to ourselves.  As before, the bird continued to show very well just a few yards away.  To see an awesome bird like this in such beautiful surroundings is always such a great privilege.

GREEN HERON fact file
  • The Green Heron is the American counterpart of a complicated complex that was once referred to as the Green-backed Heron when they were lumped into a single species.  Since 1993 however most authorities have split the main trio. They are commonly classified as the Green Heron of North and Central America, the Striated Heron that ranges from West Africa across to Japan and down to Australia and finally the Lava Heron of the Galapagos Islands.  Amongst the three separate species there are also over thirty different races.
  • Some races of Green Heron in the States are non-migratory however the race that occurs as a rare vagrant to Europe - Butorides virescens virescens is not.  This race is longer winged than the other sedentary populations.  It breeds from south-eastern Canada down to the southern United States and across to the east side of the Rocky Mountains.  It spends the winter in the southern most States of the United States and down into the northern edges of South America.
  • The Green Heron is one of a very few species of bird that uses tools to aid its hunting technique.  It often drops bait such as insects, pieces of vegetation and sometimes even bread onto the surface of the water in order to attract small fish.
GREEN HERON in Great Britain

Coincidently the first ever record of Green Heron for Britain turned up just a short distance from the current Cornish individual.  In 1890 a fellow called Mr Murray noticed a mysterious, small, stuffed heron specimen in the shop window of a taxidermist in Bath, Somerset.  After making further enquires he discovered that the bird had been shot by a gamekeeper whilst searching for Woodcock near Penrice, St Austell on the 27th October 1889.  The bird was presented to the Linnean Society the following the year and was later admitted to the British List.  After several debates throughout the subsequent years, the species was later removed from the British List in 1915 by the British Ornithologists Union who doubted the species ability to cross the Atlantic Ocean.  In 1971 however the record was reviewed once again and the species was added to the British List once more.  

The full history of the species in Britain is as follows:
  1.  1889 - Cornwall - Penrice near St Austell - immature - 27th October - shot and now on display at the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro (see above).
  2. 1982 - Yorkshire - Stone Creek - immature - 27th November until 6th December.
  3. 1987 - Lothian - Tyninghame - 1st winter - 25th October - found freshly dead and probably killed by a fox.
  4. 2001 - Lincolnshire - Messingham Sand Quarry - immature - 24th September to 2nd October.
  5. 2005 - Anglesey - Red Wharf Bay - immature - 7th November to 20th November.
  6. 2008 - Kent - West Hythe - 1st winter - 19th October to 9th November. 
  7. 2010 - Cornwall - Pentewan - 1st winter - 6th October to present

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