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Herons are long-legged water birds who mainly hunt by slow-moving surprise and, except for the spoonbill, have long dagger-like bills.

The grey heron is the commonest member of the family and can be seen almost anywhere there is water, even our garden ponds in winter.

The bittern is streaked brown to camouflage it in its favourite reedbed habitat. Once common in East Anglia it is now only a rare winter visitor to Essex, although recent conservation efforts have seen numbers increasing again.

The little egret is pure white with a black bill and white head plumes in breeding plumage. It has been an increasingly common visitor from the continent mostly in winter, and has recently started to breed here.

The spoonbill is a large white bird with an unusual flat bill shaped like a spoon with which it filters its food. It has recently started breeding in East Anglia again and visits Essex occasionally in autumn and spring.

© David Harrison