If you had lived in Norfolk years ago and were invited around to a friend’s home for Sunday roast butterbump, you would find yourself devouring a plate of Bittern meat: termed butterbump because of the amount of fat.
Unfortunately, Bitterns are a lot less common nowadays, though our small breeding population are supplemented each year by continental birds escaping the big freeze across the Channel.
This is the time of year to catch up with a Bittern in Bedfordshire, and expectant birders grabbed their bins and ‘scopes and headed for Brogborough Lake at the weekend following a report of 2, and then – amazingly, 3 individuals ‘showing’ well around the reedbed margins of the water.
So, with blue skies and sunshine, and a bit of time owing, I decided to spend an extended lunch hour at the lake, which is just a few miles down the road. It turned out to be a good decision and heralded some fantastic views of this amazing bird….and more besides!
I arrived at Brogborough to find the Lake frozen over, except for 2 relatively small ice-free patches that were filled with birds including Goldeneye, Scaup, and Red-crested Pochard.
Roy Nye had been there for a while and, though he hadn’t yet seen a Bittern, he had watched a Red Fox right out on the ice and making its way around the lake margin
Just after 1pm, I picked up a bittern standing out on the ice at the north end of the Lake. As we watched, it took off to join another Bittern that had flown right over the top of it. The flew together around the back of some islands and landed in a patch of reeds where we watched the pair of them wandering about for several minutes before they eventually went out of view. During this time we had watched the Red Fox on several occasions as it wandered around in front of the reeds and northern islands searching for food.
It wasn’t too long before one of these birds reappeared again on the frozen surface of the lake – a year ‘tick’ for John Temple who had just arrived. Once again, we were fortunate to see another Bittern fly right over the top of this bird and, as we followed it in the ‘scopes, a raptor suddenly dived into view and struck the Bittern. There was an explosion of feathers and the Bittern dropped into a patch of reeds immediately below. The large female Peregrine Falcon, for that is what it was, banked right and unsuccessfully tried to pick up some duck for lunch at the main stretch of open water in front of the watch point.
It was just before 2pm now, and I picked up another bittern - almost certainly the 3rd bittern - slowly skating eastwards. It paused before entering a patch of reeds, but not before briefly flushing a Water Rail!
On the hour, the Red Fox flushed the Bittern that had been hit by the Peregrine Falcon: this bird was obviously having a bad-feather-day! This Bittern then flew to a point in another section of reeds where it spent some time perched on the top of the reeds, obviously keeping an eye on the fox.
There were further sightings of Bitterns skating and flying before I had to make my way home….to get good views of a Bittern makes a trip worthwhile; to get good views of 3 Bitterns in one place in Bedfordshire is special; to get good views of 3 bitterns ‘skating’ and flying, together with a Bittern being attacked by a Peregrine Falcon and flushed by a Red Fox is exciting and unforgettable.
It’s going to be a good year!