Country diary: This great white egret lives up to its name

·2-min read
<span>Photograph: European Wildlife/Alamy</span>
Photograph: European Wildlife/Alamy

All dressed up in its feathered best, alone among a crowd of waterfowl, the grebe on the lake has nothing to do but dive. It would seem the bird that fished through winter in monochrome has coloured up for the spring to no avail. An alluring chestnut ruff, a jaunty little black crest; all adornment is redundant for this great crested grebe without the presence of a mate. And if breeding is the reason for being, then its summer is already over. The grebe upends and sinks out of sight. This is, after all, a fishing lake.

Standing at the water’s edge on an islet just a few metres away is another lone individual, and the first of its kind I have seen in this county. I should be whooping with delight, and I do, but silently, for I know its relations well, and they are generally a timid lot. Sure enough, a squabble of greylag geese causes this bird to raise its head, and extend its neck in alarm to full heron height.

A great crested grebe on the lake at Sefton Park, Liverpool
‘All adornment is redundant for this great crested grebe without the presence of a mate.’ Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

No question this bird fits every word of its name. Great. White. Egret. Whiter than a snow-white swan, it’s a true egret in appearance, though its length makes it impossible to confuse with its diminutive cousins, the cattle and little egrets. A lifting breeze flicks up a tiny detail on the back of its neck, the hint of an aigrette, the so-called tuft of breeding plumes. A feature without a purpose for this bird, for in all likelihood this egret is in the vanguard of the celibate pioneers, overshooting the Channel by accident or design. Numbers of great whites in the UK are rising and more are finding company to mate, but this arrival looks set to spend the season alone.

After a few minutes of head up on guard, the egret relaxes a little by withdrawing into the typical no-neck heron hunch. Something catches its eye, for it shoots out its beak, then draws it right back as if it were an arrow held in a bowstring. A spot of fishing for Billy no-mates?

• Country diary is on Twitter at @gdncountrydiary