The Eastern Great Egret

It was nearly sunset on a cold winter’s day with still air and clear blue skies.  The usual evening congregation of birds I had hoped to find was not at the river but there was a solitary eastern great egret strolling the shallows. Appearances were also made by a few scurrying hooded plover, a couple of overflying seagulls and a single juvenile pacific gull while the egret and I worked out a mutually agreeable distance to keep between us.  The egret was quite wary of me, which enabled me to capture a few images of it in flight.

Also  known as the great egret, the large egret, the white egret, the great white egret, the common egret, the white crane, the white heron or the large heron, the eastern great egret is commonly seen near the mouth of the Barham River at Apollo Bay.  It is usually in the company of its own kind, but not today.

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I was on the opposite side of the river with the telephoto lens on the camera, but I clearly moved that one metre too close and it took off.
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It kept changing location and standing in the shallows keeping an eye on me and feeding.  I was obviously outside the tacitly agreed exclusion zone when this was taken. I suppose there’s no point in landing on a rock that is larger than you need.
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This streamlined body conceals the complex array of feathers on its large wings.
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Last sunlight of the day shining through translucent wings.
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Any pilot would recognise this as a landing flare. The egret does it to perfection, with great efficiency and beauty. The ruffled feathers on the top surface of the wings result from the loss of laminar airflow over the wings when the wings are used as airbrakes to slow the bird down then stop it completely as it lands. Compare the state of these feathers to the top surface of the wings in one of the flying shots where the bird has laminar air flow over its wings creating lift.
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Centre stage at dusk in the Barham River shallows.  Long neck fully extended.  It’s as though this bird has a highly developed aesthetic sense.
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High stepping in ankle deep water.
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Stepping out.
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Yet another variation on neck shape.  Each has a purpose I suppose.
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Feet perfectly adapted for mudflats and soft sand.
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Showing off now.  The purpose of this entirely eludes me.
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Slow flight with the legs dangling.
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Speedier flight with the legs trailing directly behind in a very streamlined position. Note that the feathers on the top wing surfaces are unruffled and perfectly in place as the air flows smoothly over the curved wing surfaces creating lift.
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About to touch down.
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Another landing flare followed by a feather-soft landing. More ruffled feathers on the wing surfaces as these wings have totally stalled (aerodynamically speaking). They are acting as an airbrake at this stage of flight.
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This hooded plover landed near me and seemed keen to have his photo taken. So I obliged. He then left.  I see he is sporting an ID tag  on his right leg.
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Egret heaven at low tide.
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The sand bars and mud flats seemed to be favourite feeding spots.
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That long neck must have more than a few bends in it to achieve this aerodynamically efficient form with the head tucked right back near the leading edge of the wings.  The sun had set by the time I took this photo.
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Casual chat between a juvenile pacific gull and the eastern great egret.
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Perfectly adapted for low and slow flying.
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Perfectly streamlined in this configuration of body parts, requiring only low energy to fly quite fast on its large outstretched wings.
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Streamlining no longer needed as preparation for landing gets under way. Neck now extended, legs down and ready for landing, and wings curved and extended as flying speed reduces ready for touch down.
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The very beautiful Eastern Great Egret just after a vertical takeoff in its Barham River paradise.

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