A lesson in fieldcraft from the Avian Master

Blimey, it’s been cold!   With temperatures down so low, I’ve not really been out with the camera a great deal – I’m worried that it might get condensation building up when I get home again.  My glasses definitely get all steamed up as soon as I walk through the door, and I dread to think what that might do to the gubbins inside the camera and lenses.


Yep, we’ve had snow…

Sunday was different.  It started cold, but at least the sun came out – so it was out with the camera and a tour around some likely sites to see what I could find.

A misty start. Can you spot the leaf/plant/bird?

First stop was Hatch Pond.   Right in the middle of a busy mix of industrial estates and housing, it’s actually a bit of a gem.  I’ve dropped in a few times recently hoping to catch up with the master of camouflage, the Bittern.  It was all a bit misty when I arrived, but I decided to wait a while to see if the bird would oblige.  After the 5th or 6th scan along the edge of the reeds, I noticed something…  Was it a stalk, a large leaf, or maybe a bittern hunkered down in its roost?  Convinced there was something there, I decided to wait a while longer.  I said it wasn’t as cold as recent days didn’t I?  Well, it was blimin’ cold enough as it was!  I stood there, waiting and waiting.  A water rail scooted across the frozen cut through the reeds, a few snipe came whizzing in, teal were whistling away to each other, and at one point a rather angry lady spent a good ten minutes shouting ‘sit!’ at her dog on the path behind me.  She was angry with her dog not me I should add, as it wouldn’t do the required sitting action. 

Just as I was starting to flag, possibly related to the all nighter watching KP pummel the Aussies, there was a magical appearance….  The sun broke through the mist and lit up the far bank.  The whole place was transformed, and it even felt a little bit warmer – though that was probably just my imagination!

I’d already been stood there for an hour, and seen nothing (aside from the now identified leaf..  well, we all make mistakes!) of any Bittern anywhere.  I then noticed a reed moving, just off the bank from where I was stood.  That was it though, no more movement – did I imagine it?  Looking through my bins, all I could see was a mass of reeds.  Twenty (yes twenty!) minutes later, I saw another movement – very briefly and was sure I saw a head and beak!

There is a Bittern in there. There really is!

That was it though, and despite a pretty intensive scan of the reeds (which are pretty thin and only about 20 yards from where I was standing) I still could not see anything to suggest that there was a bittern sat right there in front of me.  For those that don’t know, a Bittern is rather like a heron but not quite so big (but still a large bird), and is very, very well marked to blend in with its surroundings.

I was then distracted by a persistent squealing, which I realised had been going for several minutes.  Normally, I’d have said it was a water rail, deep  in the reedbed.  They don’t go on and on and on though…  Looking further across the lake to the far bank I saw the source – a beauty of a fox was crouched down and making a right royal racket..  I then noticed that not 10 yards away from her was a pair of foxes, both carrying out a mutual grooming session.  This went of for 10 minutes or so, before one of the pair broke away and came to sit next to the original one.  She (I’m assuming it was a vixen) then stopped her calling and they both simply sat there enjoying the sun.  Eventually, he loped away and she wandered up to a grassy bank, curled up and went to sleep. 

Soaking up the rays..

Back to the Bittern search..  Eventually, the bird moved into a far better spot and I was finally able to get a decent glimpse.  Nearly two hours of watching the very spot, and it had moved its head once.  That is what I call real dedication to the art of camouflage!

There it is! Morphing from a pile of reeds into a bird!

Classic Bittern..

Time was fairly flying along now, so I decided to head for Poole park/Baiter.  Goldeneye and a redhead goosander had been reported earlier this week so I thought it worth a try..  No sign of either, though I got a few nice pics of gulls, cormorant and even descended into the depths of Canada goose photography!  They are very smart birds though, so I’m quite happy to include them.

It must be a drying day..

A Black headed gull, waiting to see if I had bread with me.

I've got my eye on you..


Baiter was a write off , with masses of people out enjoying the sunny weather and a fishing competition in full flow as well.  Where next then?  Holes Bay beckoned..

The water level was really high when I arrived, so most birds were elsewhere on some distant feeding grounds.  I found a site where some ducks and swans had gathered and waited for them to get used to my presence before taking some pics. 

A demonstartion in how to look elegant while paddling around in freezing cold water

Wigeon - pretty smart ducks.


It was while I was waiting that I happened to look back along the grassy path and was somewhat surprised to see a large rat sat there!  Even more surprising was just how photogenic it looked with the sunlight catching its flanks, and the fact that it was on a grass path rather than scampering around some bins probably helped the image as well!  It didn’t hang around though so I missed the shot – but I’m sorely tempted to go back there soon with a bit of food and see if I can entice it out again.

By now I’d been out there for plenty long enough and it was time to head home for a cuppa.  Now, where should I try for my next mission – track down some waxwings maybe, or go and get some pics of that rat?  You’ll just have to wait and see!

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