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Smaller than grey heron with more slender head and neck. Adult looks mainly greyish-purple. Head and neck orange-buff with black stripe running length of neck on both sides. Shows head plumes and long, streaked breast feathers. In flight, wings broad and rounded; upperwings purplish-brown with dark flight feathers, underwing grey with maroon leading edge. In flight, neck held in snake-like curve and hind toe cocked upwards.
Nests in reedbeds; rather secretive. Present April-August.
My first spotting of this bird. It was in the water, then flew to a tidal flat which was dry.