Tuesday, 10 July 2018

I want that one! 10th July 2018

Andy Pipkin the wheelchair bound character of the TV sketch show Little Britain is famous for the punchline "I want that one!". So when a male Little Bittern was found calling at a reservoir in Shropshire at the end of last week my mind (meagre as it is) immediately adopted the saying (see what I did there?). I couldn't get there over the weekend because of family commitments and work had to be done this week (yes Chivers I do earn a living sometimes) and I was eagerly eyeing up next weekend and praying that the bird would remain. Luckily (yeah, right) my job hit a snag and Tuesday turned out to be free day so I was able to put a hastily made plan into operation.

Leaving home at 05:30 we were reservoir side less than two hours later. The bird had been seen in flight at about the time we set out but not since although it had been heard calling. We chatted to a chap (well met Phil) and he said that he had been listening to the Little Bittern calling just a few metres away from where he stood. We took up a position next to him and after about 20 minutes of waiting we could hear the song of the bird. The song is described as "barking" like that of a very quiet dog but I likened it to the noise a record would make when it's played out and the stylus keeps catching on the last groove, "blmp.... blmp.... blmp.....", the "blmp's" repeated every couple of seconds in a rhythmic fashion. Listen here: Little Bittern song

There were other birders present but all were sited at the opposite end of the causeway from where presumably there was a better view. We stuck it out though until 08:15 when some shouts and much movement amongst the other birders alerted that the bird had been seen. Two birders who were stood along a side path that overlooks the whole reed bed were waving to the rest of the assembled and soon they were all leaping (or scrambling) over a gate in order to get a view. Obviously we had to join them and before long we were grabbing initial views, through an already focussed  and kindly lent scope, of the bird. I quickly found the Little Bittern through my own scope and left Mrs Caley to enjoy unhindered views while I snatched some record shots. More birders were arriving and in their haste managed to knock several scopes over including my own. To pinch another Little Britain catchphrase, "What a kerfuffle!".

A Little Bittern in a much bigger reed bed

The Little Bittern is very small by Heron standards and wouldn't even outstretch a Moorhen. Also by Bittern standards, which tend to be very well camouflaged birds, this male Little Bittern was anything but. The underparts are a rich peachy colour topped by a jet black back and a blue-grey crown. The feet are yellow and the bill and eye a striking red. The wings, when seen, have a conspicuous pale patch making them readily identifiable in flight. They clamber about the reeds using those big feet finding food items such as fish, amphibians and insects. "Our" bird had positioned itself on the outermost reeds and alternatively made as if to hunt (which it didn't) or to preen (which it did frequently). It was on view for roughly around an hour before turning its back on us and melting back into the reeds once more. The hoped for flight sequence never materialised but I'm just thankful that we had the opportunity to see such an elusive bird. A very welcome addition on the UK life list. Unlike Andy Pipkin, "I like it"!

As we walked back to the car we dawdled once more and listened to that strange song. Barking? Me? Definitely!

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