Welcome to my birdwatching blog. This blog will contain stories about my bird watching trips, interesting bird news and other tales that may or may not be bird related. I want to make it useful to the avid birder as well as those who may only have a passing interest in bird watching. I enjoy photographing bird life, common and rare through a spotting scope, not that they always sit still long enough for me. Being on the outskirts of North East London, my reports will not only cover my local patch of Redbridge/Waltham Forest, but also dip into deepest Essex, Suffolk, Kent and Norfolk.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Do you think Bitterns know all the fuss they cause?

It’s called the Bittern Watchpoint or more precisely, the Bittern Information Point. It’s not the Water Rail watchpoint or the Sparrowhawk info-point, even less the Cormorant watchpoint. Thing is, the Bittern is a bit special; not every nature reserve has them; in fact, most don’t. The Lee Valley has for years played host to wintering bittern and the park authority recognised the importance of encouraging and attracting as many of these scarce and appealing birds that it could. The reed beds have been carefully managed and now there are healthy swathes of reed any discerning bittern would be happy to hide in – and can they hide.

Even though there have been roost counts of up to three bittern in the park (this is about half of what we had last year but that coincides with a mild winter across northern Europe) sighting had been few and far between for a few weeks at Fishers Green, home to the Bittern Watchpoint. Plenty of Smew, Goosander and Water Rail but only glimpses of Bittern.

Water levels have been crazily high.
It was a beautiful day and I arrived at the park around 7.30am. Sat the entrance there were hundreds of Redwings and a handful of Fieldfares filling the trees. I stopped and watched them from the car before realising a line of park traffic had built up behind me. I ask you how inconsiderate of them. I had to move on.

Without much forethought, I headed past the toilet block hesitating briefly before deciding I would be okay not going. Too much information? Tough. More Redwings. In fact, more hundreds; possibly the same hundreds I had seen earlier but how would anyone know? A Green Woodpecker laughed at me as I negotiated the near river that had once been a road leading to the Sailing Club. Song Thrushes were everywhere and squadrons of cormorants flew over in every direction. On what was left of the goose fields, Canada Geese, a few Greylags and a pair of Egyptian Geese grazed on the small oasis’ of green grass that the rainwaters had failed to swallow.

Up at the Grand Weir there wasn’t much of a weir. The swollen lake and flood relief had reduced the fall to about 2 feet and a few Tufted Ducks were clearly wondering how much fun it might be to glide over the edge. None did but the thought was there. Wigeon were on the lake but no sign of anything special so I left and headed back to the car park. A female Bullfinch called from the wrong side of the hedgerow so not to allow a photo. Clatterings of Jackdaws swooped and soared past, heading for the farm.

Robins and Dunnocks competed for vocal of the day and a pair of Jays chased through the trees. I opened up the information point and there were two birders in the hide. No sign of the Bittern but one had been seen a few times the previous day so you never know.... A Water Rail squealed and then shot across one of the channels...everyone else missed it.

Now, at this stage it’s probably worth stating that I had forgotten to bring the shoe for my tripod and therefore any semi grown up hopes to photograph a Bittern were distant. The Bittern Watchpoint does have scopes and I did play with these for a while to see if I could just place my little Nikon over the eyepiece and get any shots or indeed, anything.

So this was pretty rubbish.

But I thought if a Bittern came along, it would be better than nothing. A Bittern came along.

I saw it first. A shape moving slowly through the left hand reed bed towards open water. I let everyone know once I was sure it wasn’t a duck or something equally embarrassing – it has happened. So cameras started to click away and it was too much for me. Out came my little old compact and I eyed the scope. Was it worth the hassle I wondered but I had already got up and grabbed the scope before anyone had a chance to steal it from me. Of douse when you’re under pressure, it seems you can never get anything in the camera viewfinder. Worse still, the stupid bird kept moving albeit slowly through the reeds. "It’s coming out" some excitable woman with a 500mm lens proclaimed. "Lovely" I said still trying focus on the bird and balance the camera. I got an image and just started blindly shooting.

Not too bad I suppose

A more unusual angle.
No telescope this time just a bit of optical zoom on my Nikon 6500S.
The whole show lasted about 15 minutes which is pretty good for Bitterns. They will normally just tiptoe between the reed beds across the channels the park rangers have cut hoping that no one is looking.

The funny thing is everyone who saw it thanks us (the volunteers) as if we had something to do with it. Haha, we just turn up and sit around all day pointing out stuff. But it would be cool to have an App for the iPhone that did a pied piper thing on a bittern. That would remove the hassle of trying to find the little focker.

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