Tuesday, 1 March 2016

There's something in the reeds 1st March 2016



A Bittern has been seen at Pinkhill Reserve at the bottom of Farmoor Reservoir for the last few days, so feeling frazzled from a morning in front of the computer on work related issues I decided that as the rain had ceased and before the phone rang again I would make my escape from the house and try my luck at Pinkhill.


The weather had improved so much that by the time I reached the excellent new hide installed by Thames Water, slip sliding my way down a very muddy track that led there, it was sunny intervals and a cold reasonably strong wind that greeted me.


I opened the hide door and was pleasantly surprised to find that only three other persons were inside and even more pleased to find they were all looking at the Bittern. I had heard tales of people waiting hours for just a glimpse of this most elusive of reed dwellers and sometimes failing to see it at all.


One of the occupants I knew. Pete told me they had been watching the Bittern for about half an hour and pointed it out to me, fairly close and hunkered down in a bank of sedge near to an area of bleached dead reeds.


All that was visible of the Bittern was its head and bill pointing at an angle upwards. The Bittern moved and extended its neck and now I could see much more of it. Overall it was golden buff on the face with a dull black crown and moustache stripe, a pale buff throat and wavy brown lines running down its neck. That was the sum of  the plumage details that I could see. It was, however, its reddish brown eyes that caught my attention. Bitterns always look cross eyed to me as if they are looking down at the tip of their bill. Perhaps they are but I think they are focusing on the ground in front, ever watchful for likely prey such as frogs, newts and the like.



It remained in this position for sometime so I got chatting to Pete who told me he had spent two and a half futile hours here yesterday and not seen it.


A low flying aircraft from Brize Norton appeared to disturb the Bittern and in a crouch it crept slowly and deliberately towards the longer reeds and as it did I noticed the undersides of its feet were bright yellow. The Bittern stopped at the edge of the reeds and thankfully remained in view.




I watched as every so often it raised its neck to its full extent and as a consequence more of its body became visible showing the beautifully marked buff, golden and brown plumage liberally streaked and barred with black markings, making it almost meld into the varying brown shades of the dead winter vegetation.  I noticed it started puffing out its buff throat but could hear no sound nor find any reason why it would do this.





Such strange birds, so reptilian in their demeanour, every movement is a considered action never hurried but furtive and stealth personified. For long periods it remained motionless but ever watchful, doubtless confident in its camouflage of plumage so marvellously adapted to match the golden browns and bleached buffs of its riparian habitat.

Finally the Bittern slowly walked into the taller bank of withered reed stems and blades and was gone from view.

  
Pete and his partner called it a day but I remained seated, not so much in the hope of the Bittern re-appearing but that it was not unpleasant looking out from the Hide at this quiet secluded corner, secreted between the River Thames and the reservoir. The wind blew stronger against the Hide and the waters I looked out on were ruffled into corrugations. Pairs of diminutive Teal sheltered in the reeds, the males miniature masterpieces of beautiful patterns and colours but, as if wary their splendour would attract unwanted attention, always well hidden in the spindly reedy stems by the open water. A Common Snipe flew in and immediately stalked into the cover of the sedge where its cryptic plumage would allow it to be  assimilated into its surroundings. A Water Rail squealed and was answered by another on  the far shore. It was quiet here and peaceful. Just natural sounds. A haven of tranquility for a few brief moments in a hectic world.

The Hide door opened and a man and his dog joined me. We got talking and he told me he was local and came here with the dog to sit quietly and contemplate in the normally deserted Hide. We were kindred spirits. His dog sighed and slumped down on the floor and he told me the dog, like us was getting old and it too liked to just sit and do the canine equivalent of contemplating life. We sat  in a silence that was not awkward. We understood that there was no real need to talk endlessly but if we had anything worthwhile to say then it would be alright to speak.

The man spotted the Bittern again, now just a blur of browns and black, almost completely obscured in the tangled jumble of reeds until it raised its black crowned head on an elongated neck. We watched it for sometime as it preened and alternately raised and lowered its head. The man left and soon after Roger joined me. We chatted about birdy things and watched the Bittern still partly visible but only just, in the reeds. It looked sheltered there, out of the wind and when the sun shone the buff on the Bittern's feathers became golden.

Some other people came to see the Bittern and we showed them where it was, employing intricate directions 'see the fourth bullrush head from the left, well look beyond there' - something like that anyway. They too saw the Bittern which they said they would never have found otherwise. I bade farewell to Roger and the others and made my way back to the car at ease with myself. Another pleasant and for once un-rushed birding interlude to add to my memories. Its been quite a start to the year.
Judging by the bluish lores and orange brown eyes this bird is an adult male


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