Bizarre Bittern.

07th January 2013
Bitterns are one of our most cryptic native species. They move slowly and silently through the reed beds they inhabit, using their perfect camouflage to avoid predation and catch the fish and small animals which make up their diet. This makes finding Bitterns very challenging, and they are usually only seen by those fortunate enough to catch one flying between reed beds or those willing to sit in a hide for several hours. I fall in to the latter category.

As a Bittern had been regularly reported for a couple of weeks at my local RSPB reserve in Conwy, i decided to pay a visit. Fortunately the reserve is relatively small, and I hoped that this would improve my chances. I headed for the Benarth hide, where I felt a gap in the reeds would offer the best chance of a view. This is also the hide where the Bittern had been most recently reported.

After nearly three hours, the Bittern first showed itself. The bird moved closer and closer to the waters edge from within the reeds, before quickly retreating for another forty five minutes. Eventually it crept back in to view and this is what happened next.

Edging closer to the shallows it looked as though it would fly at any moment, but instead the bird chose to wade into the water.

The gap in the reeds was only twenty metres, however, I was not expecting to see the bird swim across it (even though it had been observed doing just that, days before).

Slowly but surely, the bittern made its way across the channel, through what appeared to be relatively deep water.

I don't have much experience when it comes to watching bitterns, and I am not sure how common this behaviour is. All I know is that I have never seen any other species of heron swim, despite observing both Grey Heron and Little Egret on a very regular basis. I have only ever seen a couple of photographs of bitterns displaying this bizarre behaviour, and I am very happy to have witnessed and photographed this first hand.

Once on the other side, the Bittern melted away into the reeds and was once again invisible.

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