Last Tuesday I followed another lead to discover our third lifer in three weeks, yes that’s a lifer a week within a two hour drive of Sydney. This is fairly birdless time of year for passerines due to the drought and lack of flowers, so to get these birds is a great blessing. Other birders had already arrived and despite the many Egrets, Herons and Grebes in Bushell’s Lagoon our attention was trained on the reeds by the road.
We had heard that an Australasian Bittern was seen here on several occasions. Sadly, we missed the opportunity as one flew off in the distance landing about 400 meters away. It was in the reeds quite close to us all the time, and finally flew. These birds are seldom seen by birders, or anyone as they are masters of stealth, camouflage and very slow covert movement through the reeds, to the point that they can move without moving the reeds in a noticeable way.
Other birders arrived and one younger man suddenly noted a Bittern in the reeds near where the other had flown. This was a great find as it confirms that at least two are there, and possibly a breeding pair. Quickly we took our positions and started tracing the birds extremely slow stealthy movements through the reeds, as it kept one eye on us most of the time. Thankfully this one did not fly off, but just hid itself for short periods and then moved on. So we stood for a couple of hours trying find where it would emerge. As you can see it can move right in front of you and it is invisible to your sight, and it is not small by any means at between 65 to 75 cm..
The Australasian Bittern or Brown Bittern is a member of the Heron family, found in south eastern Australia, Tasmania, south western WA and New Zealand. In Australia it is a Threatened species and has the amazing ability to move through reeds without moving them, crouching and skulking, rarely coming out into the open. They often poke their head up and look like reeds, even swaying in the breeze, but with one eye trained on investigating. It hunts by the waters edge similar to other Herons eating small fish, insects, crabs, frogs etc. They are easily identified by their repetitive deep booming call.
We were all thrilled to actually see the bird in good sunlight, which is a rarity, even to actually see the bird is rare enough. So now I have to take my wife to show her, as this is our third lifer. We are so thankful to God that we are getting these opportunities at present as I write my book and being currently unemployed in between jobs.
There are many birds that can be hidden from our sight by their unique camouflage as they blend in with their surrounding habitat. The bird can be right in front of you but you can not see it because you do not know what to look for or where to look because you have never seen it before, as in my case. I walked up and down and looked in the same place over a week ago and did not see it. I needed the help of the birders who had experience at spotting this bird, which rewarded me and educated me as to how to spot the bird in the future. With this bird, just looking in a Bird Field Guide is not enough, you need to actually see it in the wild, the way it moves and ever so slowly slides through the reeds, without moving them, to appreciate the difficulty, as it is the Master of Stealth. As I ponder on this experience I realize the importance of seeking the wisdom of experience which outweighs knowledge alone. I am thankful that I could draw on the experience of others and grow in my understanding of this bird. One of the great delights in birding is that of sharing our knowledge and experience to assist those who are learning.
“The one who gets wisdom loves life; the one who cherishes understanding will soon prosper.” – Proverbs 19:8 (NIV)
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