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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Goes Down Easy Like Vermouth and Bitterns

When you’ve found over 200 birds in your county, it becomes difficult to add ticks to your county list. One of the birds I’ve been dreading is the American Bittern because it usually involves waking up before dawn in early Spring and heading out to rural Durham county, just hoping you’ll flush one from the local waterfowl impoundments. So when I heard that same bittern could be found at a spot that’s been one of my birding haunts since I first took up the activity, I jumped at the opportunity.

I got off work late and raced over to the running trails that lay alongside the Washington-Duke golf course. The gravel parking lots were full, so I ended up starting my journey from the neighborhood that I grew up in – a little far away for my comfort, given how quickly the sun was descending in the sky. I was afraid that it would be too dark to photograph the bird were it still present, so I decided to do something I’ve not done in a long time – I ran.

Out of breath, I paused on the bridge that stretched across the artificial wetland. I put my binoculars up to my face, and I saw it. The American Bittern was a couple hundred feet away, motionless in front of a wooden walkway. I had my county bird, but I wanted more. So I ran over to the walkway, tiptoeing once I got there so I wouldn’t frighten the bird. I looked out of the viewing platform and… I couldn’t find it.

Frantically I searched. I’d just seen it, I know I had. There’s the little peninsula of pond weed I saw from the bridge, a couple of willows, the creek. The bittern was nowhere to be seen. I casually glanced to my right, and immediately realized my mistake. I’d been looking about twenty feet too far away. The American Bittern stood just six feet off the viewing platform, looking right at me. I pulled out my camera, but couldn’t see through the viewfinder because my glasses were fogged up from all the running. With a little effort, I managed the one decent shot you see below.

The bittern was actually too close for my camera to focus. I had to zoom out a ways just to fit it in the frame, and that still equated to just a head-shot of the bird. The bird seemed to acknowledge my presence, and started walking out into the marsh. Frogs and fish jumped out from in front of its feet, but the bittern had fed enough that day and ignored the potential meal. Then it stopped and stared at me, almost motionless.

There we were, one awesome county bird and one out-of-breath birder. For as much as I’d been dreading picking up an American Bittern for Durham county, I was glad to have such an easy tick in front of me. My glasses finally stopped fogging up, and I was able to glimpse the bird through my binoculars, enjoying the subtle shades of its feathering, the same colors that made it invisible to me not five minutes before. Though it’s not likely, I hope the bird stays around all winter. Eventually I’ll get a chance to head out in the morning when the light is better and fully photograph this wonderful creature. But until then, I’m left with a feeling of relief and county bird #213. And man it feels good!

1 comment:

  1. I spotted an American Bittern at, of all places, Pullen Park in the middle of the day! Ya just never know.