Monday morning a rare bird alert (from eBird) popped into my email inbox. About an hour's drive north, a birder had seen a likely Cattle Egret while driving, but didn't have time to stop and photograph the bird.
Formerly only found in parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia, Cattle Egrets as a species have undergone a rapid and widespread range expansion into South and then North America (as well as other parts of the world) in the last hundred or so years. In the last 50 years, the species has nested with irregularity in parts of New England, including Maine. According to Maine Heron, Cattle Egrets nested on Stratton Island (~3 miles east of Old Orchard Beach) between 1989 and 1995. In the last two decades, the species has largely retracted from New England, with nearly all sightings thought to be of wandering birds, not breeders.
Unlike Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets who do the majority of their feeding in wetland habitats, Cattle Egrets are upland specialists. They're often observed hunting for insects and other prey in farm fields alongside large livestock.
Since I'd yet to see a Cattle Egret for my Maine Big Year, I decided to venture north. I arrived at the reported location in the small town of Pittston around noon and had little trouble locating the stocky white egret in a farm field, adjacent to a corral of cattle.