Recent sightings of Great Egrets took place at Etherington Pond in Biddeford. Courtesy photo/Rachel Lovejoy

Of course, I was focused on the ocean. When you go to Fortunes Rocks Beach in Biddeford, that’s what it’s all about … the sea, the waves and how they crash against the large rock outcropping or how they whisper more softly against the shore where little birds scurry madly to avoid being washed away.

The tide was half-way out that evening and the surf rough and uneven, too unreliable for the few surfers who were attempting to conquer it. There were also many of what I call V-formations in the surf, which is when two waves move toward each other at slightly different angles, creating an apex on the sea end before crashing and weakening higher up on the sand.

It was pretty much business as usual at the beach that night, the sun already setting behind me and not many clouds other than a few high wispy ones. Because of the sunset, the eastern sky at the horizon had turned that haunting shade of soft mauve that I love, and a pale moon rose from that misty backdrop. The air was warm but had a crisp tinge to it, and it was, of course, windy, as it always is down there.

As mesmerizing as the ocean is, I consider Fortunes Rocks a particularly unique spot because of the pond just a few feet away across the road. Called Etherington, it’s one of two fresh-water ponds situated along the Fortunes Rocks Road. The other, Lord’s Pond, is located several hundred feet away between Maddox Pond Road and Thorndike Avenue. Both ponds display the familiar characteristics of fresh-water pools, including many different kinds of aquatic plants, not the least of which are the lily pads and water lilies that cover large portions of each. Birds, including even the herring gulls, enjoy the pond; and it’s not unusual to see different species of ducks and even Canada geese lolling about on its surface.

The water was, however, quite low that night due to a paucity of rain in these parts. Etherington was a solid mass of lily pads, their blossoms long since spent. Very little water was visible between the shiny distinctive round leaves, and no birds attempted its surface. Not, that is, until a spectacular vision appeared in the form of not one, but six Great Egrets.

I was getting ready to leave, packing my camera back to my car, when a white shape drifted into view across the road and came down just a few feet away. Within seconds, another followed, coasting in on the air before setting down a few feet from the first one. And as if that weren’t enough, four more of the bright white apparitions circled overhead, undecided, before congregating among the reeds at the far edge of the pond. After a few moments, one broke away, took to the sky again, and came to join the first one. A third also rose from the water, circled the pond a few times, its great snowy wings beating languidly in the warm air, before landing some distance apart from the others closer to the pond’s far shore.

The Great Egret is one magnificent bird. Roughly twice as large as the Snowy Egret, an adult reaches a length of just over three feet with a wingspan of four feet. The National Audubon Society’s website states that, although seeing these birds this far north is still “not common,” as global temperatures continue to rise, the Great Egret’s migration range could continue to expand farther north even into Canada.

I kept these six magnificent creatures company for as long as they’d chosen to stay in the pond where they perched on their long stick-figure legs in the shallow water. Then, without warning and without a sound, up they rose into the dusky dimness, great wings plying the invisible air, before veering off and disappearing behind the trees to south.

As much as I love the sea in all its permutations, it would not be the recollection of the winddriven waves that would lead me to my rest that night. It was something else entirely that had nothing to do with the ocean and everything to do with, not one, but six pearly manifestations, whose memory would remain with me forever.

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