Sunday, 19 January 2014

Quest for a Bittern

3rd January 2014

The forecast was for sunshine and showers. At 11.00am there was no sign of any showers with wall-to-wall blue sky so I set off for Amwell with the hope of  connecting with the single Bittern present this winter. Of late it seems to have moved from Great Hardmead Lake and is now favouring the Bittern Pool, both the Water Vole watch-point side and from the metal gates. After a few moments at the main viewpoint, the clouds starting rolling in, accompanied by some very close thunder and lightening and a rainbow. Time to take cover.

I started to make my way down to the James Hide, purely to shelter from the oncoming rain, but had only got half way when the rain started, very quickly turning to hail. Luckily I had my winter coat complete with hood as the hailstones were half an inch diameter, the largest I have ever seen. By the time I reached the James Hide the rain was torrential and I climbed the steps to join Ray Hooper who had a similar idea of survival.

Eventually the rain eased so I popped out to have a look at the Bittern Pool. After a few minutes I found the Bittern moving right through the edge of the reeds, but too obscured for a photo. Luckily it was heading for one of the gaps cut in the reeds so it was just a matter of waiting. The problem was that, as the Bittern was getting closer to the gap, the clouds were getting blacker and as the law according to Sod would have it, as soon as the Bittern emerged in the gap the heavens opened.

I don't like getting the camera wet but thought I would rattle of a few shots before retreating back to the hide. The light was appalling so I wound the ISO up to 2000 and clicked away before stuffing the camera under my coat. Bearing mind that it was raining stair rods interspersed with hail at an ISO of 2000, the result wasn't that bad.

Now I was hooked and went back on the 6th January for another attempt. After standing in front of the Bittern Pool for half an hour I suddenly saw a brown shape emerging from over the reeds on the left hand side near the metal gates. The Bittern looked as though it had taken off from the other side of the reed bed and was now flying low over the reeds which made focusing difficult. I did manage to rattle off a few shots before it plunged back into the middle of the reed bed. Still not that shot I was after.

The third attempt was on the 8th January. The prospects looked a lot better today as the light was quite good with the possibility of some sunshine. No sign of the Bittern initially, but when I returned from Hollycross, it was being watched in the reeds by half a dozen birders. Although fairly obscured it was making its way along the edge towards one of the cut-outs in the reeds and hopefully it would walk across in the open for some shots. It certainly wasn't it any hurry and took a good 20 minutes to move the couple of yards to the gap.

It then pushed its head out still looking for food as it went and eventually showed itself to the assembled throng. And as soon as it disappeared into the reed on the other side of the gap, the sun came out!!

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