Thursday, 8 January 2009

A Calvert Bittern

Now that I've had a year's experience at year listing my intention is to make a real effort to see the birds that I ought to at the correct time of year. For example, in Oxon ring ouzels are usually only seen on the spring passage so it's a question of making the effort to get to likely locations when they are likely to be seen. There are a number of winter birds that I want to see and bittern was one of them. Last year it wasn't until mid December that I saw one and that was partly fortuitous so this year I decided to nip into Bucks where they have several over-wintering bitterns. The closest one to me was at the BBOWT reserve at Calvert so today I started work early so that I could take some time off in the afternoon for a bittern hunt.

I arrived at the hide at about 2:45pm to find four other birders there. One had been there since 10 in the morning and was staked out with a 600mm lens, looking to get a good bittern photo. He'd seen but not photographed a bittern earlier and had taken a nice one of a water rail which had been showing earlier. There were quite a few gulls around and I soon picked out a nice yellow legged which was close enough to the hide so that one could even see the leg colour in the water. I had a go at digiscoping it but the light was poor and I got only one half-decent shot. Someone else had found a caspian gull in the pre-roost flock earlier but in a brief scan I couldn't find it myself.

The adult yellow-legged gull showing close to the hide

We settled down to wait and it got quite sociable in the hide with general chit-chat. As it was noticably milder today there were more small birds flying around which kept us occupied picking them out. At one stage a lovely mouse climbed up a rose hip stem about 2m in front of the hide and took a single hip from the top before scampering back down again. At about 3:30 the bittern suddenly flew out of the right-hand reed bed and across to the left-hand one. All in all a few seconds of viewing and not enough for any photographs but a clear view of the whole bird as opposed to the previous glimpses that I had had at Slimbridge. We carried on waiting at at about 4:30 with it now getting pretty dark, it flew up again and showed itself for a few seconds before climbing up the reed stems and settling down to roost. Again a few seconds of viewing. After that it probably could have been picked out from the reeds in its roosting spot but for the fact that it was so dark one could hardly see a thing. Still it was very nice to see such a secretive bird again.

A few more ticks for the year list with bittern nicely ticked off very early in the year. I was also pleased to get coal tit in the garden so early on as they are not common visitors there.

2008 Year List (National)
059 greenfinch 05/01/2009 Garden
060 feral pigeon/rock dove 05/01/2009 Port Meadow
061 canada goose 06/01/2009 Garden
062 coal tit 06/01/2009 Garden
063 rook 06/01/2009 Yarnton
064 linnet 06/01/2009 Oxford Airport
065 reed bunting 07/01/2009 Oxford Canal
066 collard dove 08/01/2009 Edgcott, Bucks
067 bittern 08/01/2009 Calvert, Bucks
068 gadwall 08/01/2009 Calvert, Bucks

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