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Joseph's Blog of Birding

Posted Wednesday 29th July 2009 at 17:02 by Joseph N
Updated Thursday 30th July 2009 at 21:28 by Joseph N
Hello one and all, and welcome to my birding blog. Whenever I go birding, I will make sure that this blog will be updated. Anyway, I hope to make this blog of mine as entertaining and engaging as possible by describing my birding experiences in depth. Unfortunately there won't be any photos in this blog of mine, as I don't have the right photographic equipment to picture birds, but nonetheless, I don't think that will make much difference anyway. So please give this a read if you are interested; comments are much appreciated.

In this first entry of mine, I will be talking about my two trips to Ham Wall RSPB in Somerset. Having gone down to visit some relatives in the county, my Dad and I only thought it fair to have a look for the long stay Little Bittern there. Our chances were high, as it had been seen the day before our first visit. Furthermore, we also had my Dad's cousin to help us out. However, would we succeed in seeing this rare bittern?

It's a lovely evening on the 18th of July 2009, and three keen birders Tim, my Dad and I are step out of the Ford Focus and take out our birdwatching gear. Having heard that the Little Bittern was still showing well the day before we arrived, an air of excitement was surrounding the occasion. As we locked up the car, we saw another birder also getting his gear out, a middle aged, bearded man. We thought it appropriate to ask him if the Little Bittern was still around, and did so. His response was:

" I was down here earlier, and the Little Bittern was showing well. I'm just on the way down to have a look for it again."

We asked where the best place was to see it, and the man kindly said he would show us where he had been seeing it. So wet set off, quietly sanguine that we were going to see the bird.

It took us around 10 minutes to get to the main part of the resevoir. Near the first couple of hides, we set up our gear. In front of us there was a pool in which some Great Crested and Little Grebe were swimming, and beyond that, dense marshland, presumably where the Little Bittern was hiding.

" The last time I saw the Little Bittern it was at around 12 o clock from where we are standing right now, basically right in the middle of the marshes. I then saw it fly briefly, and from that moment onwards I didn't see it, but still, that doesn't mean it isn't still in there," explained the birder as we set our scopes up and aimed them on the reeds, hoping to see a proud Little Bittern on the tops of one of them.

With this, we scoured the surrounding marshland for the bird.

" It doesn't appear to be showing," said the birder a while later.

At this point, we saw an elderly birding couple come out from the hides. They came up to us.

" Have you seen the Little Bittern?

" We have only just arrived," I replied.

" Ok. We saw it around 20 minutes ago on the top of those dead reeds in front of the left hand side of the pool here. It was preening itself, but then dipped down and out of sight. We haven't seen it since. But yes, the chances are it will appear again, as we have seen it a few times today already. Good luck to you."

'Ok, so it has been seen recently', I thought to myself, ' Now it is just the job of re-finding it.'

Half an hour passed, but with no success on the Little Bittern front. However, I was in for a surprise.

" Ok, it looks like I have got a Water Rail here," said my Dad, " Look at around 3 o clock and there's one just in front of the reed-beds."

My heart filled with delight as I heard this. I had never seen a Water Rail before neither abroad or in Britain (yes it was one of my bogey birds!), meaning it was a life tick for me. It was an absolutely beauitful sight! A fine adult, it appeared from the reeds for and showed for at most a minute. It moved cautiously and slowly, giving me a chance to examine its beautiful red bill, its bluey-grey breast and the rest of its plumage, before moving nimbly and quickly flying to cover. I feel I was very lucky to see this, as a Water Rail very rarely shows itself. So yes, that was lovely. With this Water Rail, seen, I was in for even more excitement, in the name of 3 other birds I hadn't seen before. Just a few minutes after the Water Rail was seen, we all heard a very loud, single noted whistle like call coming from very close by; Kingfisher.

And he was right. Quickly raising our binoculars towards the pool in front of us, we all saw the spark of azure and orange which can mean nothing else but a Kingfisher. It zipped quickly across the pool; but slow enough for us to see it clearly through the binoculars. That moment must have been one of the best bird experiences of my life. Having never seen a one before it was like magic to see the beautiful azure and orange spark of a Kingfisher right in front of my eyes. It is renowned for being an absolutely stunning bird, and for me it was just that! Luckily for me, I saw it another two times on the pool whilst looking for the Little Bittern, which made it extra special. Unforgettable... just unforgettable!

With Water Rail and Kingfisher seen, I now assured myself that Ham Wall was a good place for the specialist marshland birds. ' If I see the Little Bittern today,' I thought, ' This will become one of my best days birding in a long time!'

By this time we had spent 45 minutes searching for the Little Bittern, but still with no success. However, we still had several hours before sun down, so there was still plenty of chance of us seeing it. At this point, Tim and I went down to look in both the hides, leaving my Dad and the other birder. We spent another 20 to 30 minutes there, but still failed to see the Little Bittern. However, I was delighted when I got not a life tick, but a British tick in the name of a Cetti's Warbler (I saw my first one in Spain). We had heard several Cetti's Warblers whilst looking for the Little Bittern, but hadn't seen any. Tim managed to spot sitting in the vegetation right in front of us, having heard it call. We only saw it for a few seconds, but there was no doubting it was a Cetti's, as we could see it's rufous brown plumage and pale breast. It perhaps wasn't the most exciting of birds, but seeing it nonetheless, especially from such a short distance, was great. It seemed already that this was a superb days birding. But there was STILL no Little Bittern. When Tim and I returned from the hides, my Dad and the other birder were still there. Unfortunately they still hadn't seen it, and it had been over an hour and a half since it was supposedly last seen. This was starting to get a little frustrating, despite the beautiful birds we had already seen.

Then suddenly the birder helping us raised his hand as if he had heard something.

" Can you hear what sounds like a distant dog barking? That's the Little Bittern calling."

This was good news, and suddenly we all felt hopeful again. The Little Bittern was there, it just wasn't showing. Another hour passed, and the birder that had helped us had now gone. No new birds were seen, just the Kingfisher we had seen early zipping round the pool a couple of times. But then suddenly, as Dad and Tim went to check the other side of the marsh, I saw a big, chunky brown taking off from the reed-beds as I was scanning them through my bins. I had just spotted my first ever Eurasian Bittern!. The bird was only up for a few seconds (quick enough for me to identify it) before it went back into the reeds again. This filled my heart with joy, as I had always wanted to see a normal Bittern, especially in flight. It was an absolutely magnificent bird! As soon as it went down into the reeds again, I went to tell Dad and Tim of my spot. They were disappointed that they didn't see it, but nonetheless happy for me. Bitterns breed in Ham Wall RSPB, so there was always a chance of one being seen, and I just happened to be lucky enough to glimpse one.

Another 15 minutes or so later, and we had been scanning the same area for nearly 2 and a half hours, but with no Little Bittern having been seen. It was time for a change of scene, and one last attempt for the Little Bittern. So we left where we had been watching and walked along the path for a while, scanning whenever reed beds appeared. Would we see it that day? The answer is.... no. By the time another hour had passed, it was nearly 9:00pm, and we decided to go home, as it was around an hours drive to where we were staying.

We left Ham Wall slightly frustrated, as we had dedicated around 3 and a half hours of looking for the Little Bittern and had failed to see it. Also the fact that someone had seen it 20 minutes earlier made us feel not so great. At least for me, this was a superb day of birdwatching for me. I had seen Water Rail, Common Kingfisher, Cetti's Warbler and Eurasian Bittern, all birds I had never seen before in Britain. 3 of the birds I had never seen before, it was the Cetti's Warbler that I had seen before in Spain. Overall, a day to remember.

Day 2:

A week later, just my Dad and I decided to go up to Ham Wall once more. But this time our hopes were low. It had been raining off and on all day and it was windy. Also, the Little Bittern hadn't been reported in several days. We spent a couple of hours there, but due to the frankly rubbish weather, we didn't see it. We met some birdwatchers along the way who said it was getting very skulky, and said that is only viewed by the odd person now. Birds to note on this trip to Ham Wall included a female Marsh Harrier, a party of Long-tailed Tit, and hearing the discontented piglet like squeal of a Water Rail.

So there you go folks, I didn't see the Little Bittern in the end, but at least I heard it! I still managed to have a great time at Ham Wall RSPB. Thank you for reading, and I will update this on my next birdwatch! (trust me, future entries won't be so long)
Total Comments 5


Andrew Whitehouse's Avatar
Excellent account Joseph and I look forward to reading more. I'm not sure it's much of a consolation but I've been birding in Britain for over thirty years and I've still not seen a Little Bittern here. There's a few others that you did manage to see that certainly took me a while!
Posted Wednesday 29th July 2009 at 18:29 by Andrew Whitehouse Andrew Whitehouse is offline
what a well written account Joseph. I can see a future for you as a nature writer. I'm looking forward to reading your next instalment, and I don't mind how long it is.
Posted Thursday 30th July 2009 at 19:42 by Ken Hall Ken Hall is offline
Joseph N's Avatar
Thanks you two for your kind words. It looks like I am going to be going out birding, probably for a seawatch, this weekend. I'll make sure that I report the day in here.

Andrew thanks. Have you ever been close to seeing a Little Bittern? If you haven't, then I would understand, as they are skulky birds.

Ken, thank you very much. I don't have aspirations as such to become a nature writer, but I am touched that you think I have the potential to become one. I am actually aiming to become a writer of fiction, so I can see where your coming from.

Anyway, as I said, I will report back in here next birdwatch.
Posted Thursday 30th July 2009 at 20:51 by Joseph N Joseph N is offline
Andrew Whitehouse's Avatar
Little Bittern was a bit of a bogie bird for a while but I eventually saw a few in Turkey, including one that I remember watching demolishing a frog. I've also seen them in South Africa and Poland, but never in Britain.

Keep up with the writing, and the birding. I hope you do okay with the seawatching - it's been a bit quiet on the sea at Girdle Ness lately.
Posted Thursday 30th July 2009 at 20:55 by Andrew Whitehouse Andrew Whitehouse is offline
Joseph N's Avatar
Thank you, and I certainly will continue birding and writing! My Dad and I are thinking of visiting Black Dog to see if we can see the drake Surf Scoter (or is there two?). We have already had a look for the Surf Scoter/s there this year, but thus far we have failed. Fingers crossed that we will see it. After that we will probably go up to Strathbeg. It's likely that we will try Rattray whilst we are there, which hopefully provide some good sea-watching as the summer months fade into autumn months, which as we all know are great for birds, whether they are on the sea or on land.

Demolishing a frog? That sounded like a highly entertaining spectacle! I hope to see a Little Bittern abroad , and it just so happens that I have relatives in South Africa. If I am right in thinking that Little Bittern's winter there, then I guess there's always a chance of if I visit there during that time of year!
Posted Thursday 30th July 2009 at 21:16 by Joseph N Joseph N is offline
Updated Thursday 30th July 2009 at 21:27 by Joseph N
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