Three years ago, little knowing I would end up living here, I travelled from Worcestershire to Ham Wall in order to see a little bittern. I stayed at a local campsite in order to be on site in the early morning. Earlier this summer, rumours began to circulate that a little bittern was being heard and seen again – so, living less than ten minutes from Ham Wall, I was eager for another sighting of this notoriously elusive bird.
Thus it was that, one evening in early July, I headed along the main track towards the eastern end of the reserve, keeping my ears open. Eventually I heard the muffled barking: huf… huf… huf…. With monotonous regularity, there were ten barks every 23 seconds. I waited for well over half an hour, every so often straining over the reeds to see whether I could at least glimpse it – but despite its audibility, it remained out of sight.
Then without warning it suddenly flew up from just below where I was stood, across in front of me – it can’t have been more than ten feet away at one point – before cruising into the middle of the reedbed on the opposite side of the path. I was able to take in the black wings with large white elliptical patches and the bright orangey-yellow bill as it passed by. I’d have been thoroughly content with that – but a few minutes later it returned, albeit a bit further away. Then, shortly after, it flew along the reedbed. Three sightings in about ten minutes – each one far better than the glimpses three years ago.
A few days later I was chatting with a neighbour who is also a birding enthusiast. I was bemoaning the fact that I’d missed the collared pratincole that had been seen at Ham Wall while Jen and I were in the Scillies. I then mentioned this little bittern sighting, which he thought was more notable: “Some people would kill you for that!” he said.