National Geographic : 1958 Mar
A day or two before our arrival one of the colonies in the Coto had been raided by egg thieves who rushed in and cleaned out the nests while an accomplice lured the game keeper away. It was only a temporary set back, for within a few days the birds par tially recouped their losses with fresh eggs. The little egrets with black bills and yellow feet, graceful counterparts of North America's snowy egrets, occupied between 2,800 and 3,300 nests. Night herons and buffy-plumed cattle egrets had close to 4,000 nests between them. There were between 60 and 90 pairs of the little squacco heron (page 404). Forty big gray herons had nests in the branches of two huge cork oaks. Cuckoos Harass Nesting Magpies Magpies, the same species seen in the west ern United States, occasionally stole heron eggs. But they in turn were having a tough time because of the large numbers of great spotted cuckoos. In this part of Spain, these parasitic specialists lay their eggs only in magpie nests. The hustle and bustle of the heronries, the clamor and clatter, were beyond description. 402 Las Marismas Refuge Shelters Birds from Two Continents The sanctuary lies along a great flyway across Europe and Africa. Few birds reside the year round; most use the marshes as a nesting ground or a way station. Some make round trips between South Africa and Scandinavia by way of the Strait of Gibraltar. From everywhere came the "wulla-wulla wulla" of little egrets, exactly like the love notes of snowy egrets in Florida rookeries. The enraptured birds erected their long crests and raised filmy plumes in dazzling cascades of beauty (opposite). Cattle egrets, whose yellowish bills blushed bright pink at the mo ment of greeting, also raised their plumes and hackles in a ritual repeated whenever there was a change-over on the nest (page 401). Other birds dropped down to the ooze at the edge of the colony to hunt sticks. These they presented to their partners with great ceremony. The demonstrations led to thiev ing in bird paradise. Let a nesting bird turn its back for a moment, and its home was apt to shrink a bit. It was much easier to pilfer sticks from unguarded nests than to find new ones-maybe more fun, too. During the heat of the day, from noon to about four o'clock, activity in the colonies subsided. Many of the cattle egrets were dancing attendance on the herds out on the marshes, but as the sun began to descend, long strings of birds returned from all points of the compass to drop like snowflakes onto bushes already white with their fellows.