Once Bittern

I knew it was there, stealthily stalking amongst the dense stand of reeds. I knew it was there because I'd seen it fly across the broad and land amongst the uniform stand of luxuriant summer growth. I knew it was there but I could not see its cryptically patterned form. Patience: the key to success, it was bound to show eventually. Other birds briefly enlivened the scene; jays looping to and fro in their mission to stash acorns, a green woodpecker bounding, a marsh harrier soaring, a Cetti's warbler blasting. But still the bird remained hidden. In the soporific warmth of another sultry early autumn afternoon, a brimstone butterfly, soon to hibernate in the shelter of some ivy clump, flittered lazily around the screen behind which I was positioned. Siskins, newly arrived from the dense tracts of Scandinavian forests, wheezed in alders above me whilst a heron stretched skyward spreading its voluminous wings to soak up the rays of the most welcome sunshine, looking for all the world like some sentry stood to attention. People came and went, chatting and picnicking and still the bittern cloaked itself in the matted undergrowth. Once a movement, slight but furtive, as the bird slowly emerged from the reed screen. I watched it briefly creep amongst the shallows poking around for fish fry or hapless amphibians; tantalisingly close but frustratingly obscured by dying reeds. And before long it slinked back into cover and disappeared.

Heron in Heraldic Pose

I started my Yare Valley excursion at Cantley Beet Factory, where I searched forlornly for a white-winged tern that had recently been dancing over the cloying waters of the settling ponds. Although there was no sign of this wanderer, the scene was enlivened by the tinny calls of bearded tits moving on short whirring wings through the abundant and luxuriant reed growth. I slowly tracked a small party and with the cover of a conveniently positioned hawthorn managed to position myself quite close to where these birds were feeding. What a delight to watch pristine males, fiery colours ablaze, cloaked in autumn shades of russet and gold that glowed in the glare of bright sunshine. They knew I was there, but determining I was no immediate threat, went about dismantling the dancing seed heads with gusto.    


Male Bearded Tit (with dark eye)


Male Bearded Tit (yellow eye)


Female Bearded Tit


Long-tailed Tit


Lapwings and a Ruff

These birds were numerous at Cantley

And then buzzards, a pair, mewing in the blue heavens. And then two more, and yet more until eight of these large raptors were spiralling above me on broad, fingered wings. Maybe these were local family groups or maybe genuine migrants moving lazily south as the season dictates. Whatever, they are always a pleasure to watch. Earlier, I had been alerted to another buzzard by the noisy attention of a large group of corvids, giving chase and generally harassing the larger bird. Crows seem to have great fun making mischief with raptors and these black tormentors, rooks and jackdaws mainly, seemed intent on inflicting as much misery as possible. The buzzard didn't appear to be too distracted; it simply glided purposefully on its way to richer foraging grounds.


The Buzzard Mobbed by Unwelcome Acolytes

And so we return to the opening scene, to Strumpshaw Fen and my lengthening wait for the bittern

I kept thinking that I really should be going home. I needed to move, but with the optimism bred of other long vigils keep giving the bird another 5 minutes, and another, and another. In all it took 2 hours of sitting quietly, waiting with finger poised on my camera shutter release, before I could briefly admire the spangled, marbled golds of its plumage at close quarters. It was no real trial, I chatted pleasantly to like-minded appreciators of all things wild, I could tune in to the merry chatter of the volunteer staff in the Visitor Centre, I basked in the warmth of the afternoon sun; no, it was no trial at all. Once the bird eventually broke cover, gliding from one reed fringed side of the open water to the other, I reeled off as many shots as my camera would allow. Through the telephoto lens I could note the intricacy of its camouflage, the stern looking countenance and the huge claws on its gangly feet. What a privilege. And then having been able to capture something of this beautiful, shy and mysterious bird, I myself slide off the bench, stretched my aching limbs to saunter back to my car, content and satisfied with the day.




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