Friday 26 October 2018

The Great White Egrets at Blenheim 26th October 2018

Woodstock is a small market town in West Oxfordshire, made famous due to the presence of the three hundred year old Blenheim Palace which is the birthplace of Winston Churchill and now a World Heritage Site. The palace is surrounded by two thousand acres of parkland, landscaped by Capability Brown, and contains The Great Lake spanned by Vanbrugh's Grand Bridge, well known from featuring in many period dramas.

Distant view of Vanbrugh's Grand Bridge from the part of
The Great Lake that is not being drained
The parkland is accessible to the public and indeed there is free access at certain points where footpaths run across the parkland.

The Great Lake is currently not in a good state due to a build up of silt and that part of the lake upstream of the Grand Bridge, known as the Queen's Pool, is being drained so that the build up of centuries of silt can be dredged and removed.This is a five year project that will cost half a million pounds. As the Queen's Pool slowly drains and the water levels reach just a few centimetres  this has attracted various heron species, never slow to take advantage of an opportunity to feast on the fish that are made vulnerable by the shallow water.

The partially drained Queen's Pool with plenty of exposed
silt on view!
The main attraction amongst the ever present Little Egrets and Grey Herons are Great White Egrets of which there are five, possibly six, now frequenting the slowly diminishing lake. Great White Egrets are no strangers to Oxfordshire and in the last few years have become a regular presence in the Lower Windrush Valley and indeed last year at least three were to be found during the winter months in the Woodstock Water Meadows which are just the other side of the road from Blenheim.

It considered it would be remiss of me not to go and see the Great White Egrets for myself,  especially as Woodstock is but twenty minutes drive from my home and on a lovely, late autumn morning I found myself entering a side gate into the parkland and  walking under the mighty beech trees of Blenheim, all grey of trunk and burnished copper of leaf, crunching the fallen beech mast underfoot.

Autumn in Blenheim
I could see the Great White Egrets almost immediately. Two were wading in the shallow water whilst another three were idling their time on some dead tree stumps sticking up from the exposed mud on the far side of the Queen's Pool. Great White Egrets are large but manage to retain an attenuated elegance, as they are slender in every aspect of their build. Their plumage is the colour of pure driven snow, the whiteness almost luminescent in the bright sunlight illuminating their bills of buttercup yellow.

Great White Egrets
I watched them for around twenty minutes  but slowly, one by one they flew off, rising up on broad white wings with neck withdrawn and long black legs outstretched behind their tail, to clear the Grand Bridge and presumably fly to that part of the Great Lake that was not being drained.

Great White Egret
They left behind half a dozen Little Egrets and a positive phalanx of twenty or so Grey Heron's, the latter stood hunched and grey and vaguely sinister on the mud, close to reeds that provided some shelter from the increasing easterly wind.

Little Egrets
A Peregrine swept  around the lake at tree top height, making one circuit only before departing and having created a brief panic amongst the five hundred or so Teal sunning and fussing amongst  themselves at the water's edge.

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