(disclaimer: these are lousy photos, but the bird is just SO cool!)
I was parked along the edge of Bear Swamp Pool at Bombay Hook NWR, surveying the landscape, when I noticed movement in the reeds on the far edge of the pool. There, clinging to the reeds three feet off the ground, was a Least Bittern, foraging for his lunch. Amazingly, the Bittern traveled through the reeds by ‘walking’ from reed stalk to reed stalk, never actually touching the water.
Distinguishing this Bittern from the American Bittern turned out to be quite easy – these are SMALL birds, the smallest of the heron family, measuring 13 inches fully extended. By comparison the American Bittern measures 28 inches, and the Green Heron measures 18 inches. Combine the size and catch a glimpse of the buffy-colored breast and voila – a Least Bittern.
However, finding the Least Bittern is quite the challenge. I’ve known that Least Bitterns breed and nest in the reeds around this pool for quite some time. Every time I go to Bombay Hook, I spend quite a bit of time surveying the reeds. But these are secretive, well-camouflaged birds who spook quite easily. They are known for their habit of freezing still, extending their neck fully, and letting their head sway slightly from side to side, mimicking the movement of the reeds in which they hide. Today, however, this Least Bittern was traveling among the reeds right at the edge of the pool, and was on the far side of the pool, allowing me to get these few, blurry photos before he took off to hide deeper in the reeds.