ON THE WILD SIDE A bitt of a rarity
● 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