About 4 years ago I found myself having (yes, having) to run out of work at lunchtime as a little bittern had cropped up about a mile from where I live, on the River Colne in Rickmansworth aquadrome. These are tiny cousins of our eurasian bittern, barely bigger than a coot. They used to be very rare, but over the last few years have started to become more common in Summer and have even started to breed, or at least try to breed. Most of these attempts occur on the West Country.
This year up to 3 males have been present at Ham Wall in Somerset, near Glastonbury. Like all their family though, being present and being on view are not the same thing. These were showing their presence mainly through sound, with the males giving a barking call from the reeds thus allowing people to work our firstly that there were 3 of them but also that there were probably no females, hence them still calling.
Still, I decided it was worth a trip so I did my usual early start and got to Ham Wall about 7.30. The site is a giant reed bed with an easy walk along a proper path with a number of hides to stop at. The bitterns were at the end of the walk, about 20 minutes I suppose.
I eventually got to the spot where the bitterns were most commonly seen. It was a cut between two areas of reeds and about 10 other birders were already staking it out. After I suppose 20 minutes or so you could hear the bittern calling from the reeds, a rasping, barking noise. I'm clearly not a female bittern so my not finding it attractive is not a problem. It was always calling though from deep in the reeds and not visible.
Over almost 3 hours we watched, waited, tried to work out locations and generally lost concentration. Suddenly a bird popped out of the bed on the left and for I think 3 or 4 seconds was visible as it relocated into the right! It then repeated the process of calling. After another 45 minutes it now flew for almost 7 or 8 seconds before disappearing. No chance for a photo but it was a really smart bird. Only the second one I've seen so nice but a shame it doesn't have a lady friend!
The back-up cast wasn't bad. They have 10 pairs of great white egrets breeding on site, another bird which is a recent colonist. They are clearly different to the little egrets, also new colonists, both in size and their yellow as opposed to black beaks.
Finally there was a distant glossy ibis. To complete the theme, these are becoming regular visitors to our shores and will probably become regular additions to the list of breeding birds soon.
There were of course all the usual warblers around to give a constant soundtrack to the day. A nice day all round, which 10 years ago would have been one packed with mama rare birds but now is becoming more and more common. Strange the way some birds like turtle doves are now harder to see than little bitterns or great white egrets!!!!