Critters at Beacon's Reach
Among the largest and most beautiful birds, egrets are easily found along the shoreline of the sound, usually feeding in shallow water. The all-white bodies of these birds makes them easy to pick out from a distance while they are nestled in the lush green backdrops of the wetlands.
Though similar, there are actually two species present in significant numbers: the Snowy Egret and the Great Egret. The Snowy Egret has yellow feet and a black beak. The Great Egret has a yellow beak, and is larger than the Snowy Egret. Both varieties were nearly extinct at one point in the late nineteenth century as a result of hunting, since the feathers were considered stylish in ladies' hats. Thanks to conservation efforts, the egret population has been restored to reasonable levels and is not considered endagered.
Egrets eat crabs, small fish, shrimp and some insects, while standing in shallow water. They nest in trees, preferring heavily-wooded areas to provide safety. Egrets are shy birds; if you approach one quietly by kayak, he may let you within fifty feet before taking flight, with squawks of protest at being disturbed. Seeing one of these birds, with a wingspan of three feet or more, take flight at close range is a thrill for anyone.
Egret taking flight from tree.
Great Egret behind Westport IV.
Sources: Nature Guide to the Carolina Coast, by Peter Meyer, and Seacoast Life , by Judith M. Spitsbergen