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Once Bittern, Thrice Shy

bittern at Woods Mill / Anisa Bryce bittern at Woods Mill / Anisa Bryce
Author Mike Russell

OK, sorry about the naff headline, it shows my lack of imagination as well as my indignation that once again a bittern has put in an appearance at Woods Mill and I haven't seen it!

This photograph was taken at Woods Mill nature reserve, the Trust's headquarters, on Tuesday (19th March), by a visitor who then tweeted it. Having been alerted by our ever vigilant webmaster Richard, I rushed out to the reserve but alas to no avail, the bittern had disappeared. Three times now this winter a bittern has been seen at Woods Mill and the information has come to me rather belatedly. I've either been out the office, away or staring at the computer doing something far less important than going out looking for this enigmatic bird.

Putting aside my exasperation though, this, for once, is a good news story. Bitterns are very rare but slowly they are making a comeback, largely due to their pretty restrictive habitat requirements and some very imaginative habitat creation projects. At the turn of the 21st Century, there was thought to be just 19 breeding pairs in the UK, but now this has risen to over 100 pairs, a really encouraging growth. Numbers are supplemented in winter by visitors from the continent and these could be the ones we are now seeing in Sussex.

Rye Harbour nature reserve is the county hot spot for bitterns and the good news is that, thanks to the Bittern Habitat Creation Project there, they have now been heard booming in the spring giving rise to the exciting prospect of a breeding pair in the very near future. The Trust's reserve at Burton Pond near Petworth now attracts a regular bittern or two in the winter and they are also seen most winters at Filsham Reedbed, another Trust reserve. One lucky person woke up recently to find a bittern on her garden pond in Wisborough Green.

So, if you are visiting Woods Mill and you see a bittern, please come into the office and let us know. No meeting is ever too important to walk out of, no document that can't wait another hour to finish; I'd even forego my lunch to see a bittern at Woods Mill!

Bittern in the snow at Rye Harbour nature reserve


  • 26 Mar 2013 13:50:41

    Hi Mike
    I think the post title demonstrates a high level of imaginative capability. You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself Mike!

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