ON THE WILD SIDE A bitt of a rar­ity

Daily Star Sunday - - RESULT! -

● BOOM, boom! Have you ever heard a deep boom­ing sound carry across the marshes? It was a com­mon sound many years ago, but now it’s in­cred­i­bly rare – and it’s even rarer to see the bird which makes it. To­day though, I’m giv­ing a shout out to this mys­te­ri­ous reed bed ninja, this cam­ou­flaged-heron. Yes, it’s the bit­tern. A very rare res­i­dent, the bit­tern lives only in a few spots year round – no­tably Nor­folk, Suf­folk and Lan­cashire. Fewer than 200 are per­ma­nent res­i­dents but in the win­ter sev­eral hun­dred join us from across the sea, van­ish­ing into reeds all over the UK.

The best chance to see them is when they are fly­ing. With big fat bod­ies, fairly short wings and a scrunched up neck, they are a strange sight.

There are bit­terns all over the world and the species we have is wide­spread, be­ing found from Ja­pan to South Africa. Even where com­mon, our lit­tle boom-bird is no­to­ri­ous for be­ing al­most im­pos­si­ble to spot. When threat­ened, it stands still, beak to the sky, and blends into the reeds. This ac­tion, not sur­pris­ingly, is called “bit­tern­ing”.

The Latin name for this bird means “starred bull”, re­fer­ring to its speck­led breast and the fact its call sounds like a bull bel­low­ing.

Their favourite food is eels, but the slime they pro­duce can ruin the birds’ in­cred­i­ble cam­ou­flage. Thank­fully, bit­terns have a way to fix this – they pro­duce a pow­der from spe­cial feath­ers on their sides to help them clean up and re­main hid­den.

The boom­ing call can be heard from well over a mile away.

Our bit­terns be­came rarer be­cause more reed beds were drained to build on, left to over­grow and rot or con­tam­i­nated with salt wa­ter.

Peo­ple are work­ing hard to main­tain our reed beds, so maybe in the fu­ture many more of us will be able to hear the fa­bled boom echo­ing out across reeds and marshes all over our is­lands. GERRY via email

THIS might seem a strange time to be think­ing about baby an­i­mals, but our grey seals are hav­ing their pups now. If you live near a colony, look out for lit­tle white balls of fluff on the rocks. ■ ELU­SIVE: Bit­terns are threat­ened when reedbeds are lost

MY wife ac­cused me of be­ing im­ma­ture.I told her to get off my climb­ing frame. I WENT to town to buy a pair of cam­ou­flage trousers…but I just couldn’t see any. WHAT did the can­ni­bal get when he ar­rived late for din­ner? The cold shoul­der. DI­ETI­CIANS never die – they just waist away

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