As a teenager in the Boy Scouts, I had several opportunities to attend summer camp at Central Florida’s McGregor Smith Scout Reservation, one of Florida’s hidden gems (since acquired and operated by the SW Florida Water Management District). It was during a wilderness survival camping trip along the Withlacoochee River that I first learned how to distinguish the three white Florida egrets, and I can trace my passion for ornithology to that one afternoon in a rowboat on the river, as we set trotlines for catfish and just enjoyed the afternoon.
The stretch of the Withlacoochee bordering the reservation is beautiful, and was absolutely pristine in the seventies. The river was full of fish and turtles, and there were more birds than you could count. I mentioned this to our counselor, who promptly pointed out several species that I had never heard of, including Limpkin and Anhinga. I responded by indicating a cluster of large white birds near the shore. “Egrets!” I proudly announced.
“Yes, but can you tell me what kind of egret?” he asked.
I was stumped. “There are more than one kind?”
It turned out that there are three types of white egrets in Florida (and in most of the US) and they are relatively easy to distinguish, once you know what you’re looking for. The telltale features are the legs, and the beak. Here, for your enjoyment, I’ll spell out for you the differences that started me so long ago on the path to being an avid birder. Continue reading