An epic saga about a quest for a Bittern pic

The Beast a Bittern

My latest visit to Slimbridge has been one that will last long in my memories. If I was a Viking I am sure there would be a Nordic Saga written about it. Well, that's if Vikings were birdwatchers - perhaps  "Ragnar the Birder" does have a little ring to it :)

So where shall I begin with this tale of birding Valhalla. .Like most good stories it starts with some "heroes" who go on a journey that often involves some sort of quest to find something. In this story, the " heroes" were me and my good friend Paul Joy. If anything I think Paul and I are more akin to the cartoon Gaul heroes Asterix and Obelix ( if any of my readers remember them).

The journey involved a trip in a car over the great water of the River Seven and the heroes' destination was the mighty Slimbridge known to be a haunt of many a wild beast. Their quest was to get some pics of a  monstrous beast known as "The Bittern". This feathered monstrosity was infamous for its ability to hide in ambush and deadly to its prey (Fish and small rodents if you are wondering). Don't be scared there's no reports of people being eaten so far ;)

For several days there had been reports of these enigmatic super camouflaged creatures being seen in the area.

As they traveled the two heroes boasted of such tall stories of previous "quests" that the mighty Beowulf himself would feel humbled - or very bored - I don't think he was a birding person - well not the feathered kind anyway.

The weather for the last few days had been shocking. Rain and very gloomy skies. As our heroes arrived there was a great parting in the heavens and the sun shone down through a gap in the cloud as bright as Thor's hammer.

Things were looking up  - the blue sky was now on the horizon.

Off our Heroes went on the trail of the Bittern but like any could quest before they found their quarry they would have to undertake a few challenges on their way, set by the all mighty gods.

First, they faced the ravening hoard of hungry wildfowl. Their challenge to try and capture them all in one photograph. Never had they seen so many beasts so early in the morning. Hundreds of geese and ducks were waiting for them. Between them, the heroes tried to use their mightiest of big lenses but only two or three of the hungry beats could be captured in the frame.

How could they picture them all there was too many? The heroes had their secret weapon the versatile mobile phone "pano" pic. Whilst holding up the technological wonder and sweeping it in a wide arc before the hoards of wildfowl they captured them all. Gods be praised they had done it and it was time to move on.

Hoards of Wildfowl waiting for some free food.

Second the heroes had to climb a huge tower and capture get a picture of the arrival of a goose from a faraway island named Greenland.

One of the heroes climbed the towers great staircase whilst the other called on the Gods and levitated as if by magic to the top using a spell known as the "lift".

The new Holden Tower

At the top, the heroes had a sight like no other. Views so great and broad that not even the mighty mobile pano could capture.

A view from the tower

A hero captured in action

Flying above them was a flock of Golden Plovers, followed by a Merlin that was being harassed by one of great Odin's crows.

Golden Plovers

Golden Plovers in a V flying formation

Then the Greenlander descended from the heavens calling as it did so. Our heroes turned and focused their great lenses and captured the monster known as the White Fronted Goose. It looked like it had just arrived after its long journey from the North.

A visitor from Greenland. A White-Fronted Goose

The third challenge was to capture a hoard of waders in flight. Not the easiest of challenges.

They walked deeper into the reserve to a place known as the South Lake. Here they found a big flock of waders. Black-Tailed Godwits, Ruff, and Knots had gathered together in a tight huddle.

Our heroes set up their greatest of lenses and set them up so that they were so quick they could capture a lightning bolt cast down by the Gods themselves.

Then as if Odin had shouted in a great temper across the lake the flock burst into the sky. Like the Valkyries of legend, the birds swooped down and then up into the sky. Back and forth in amazing acts of formation flying. The heroes snapped away with their lenses and all the waders flying were captured.

Black-Tailed Godwits and Knots

Knots, Black Tailed Godwits and Ruff



They had been successful so far but things were going to get harder as some of the Gods were against them and were trying to thwart their progress to the fabled Bittern. The blue sky was banished, the clouds darkened and the rain came pouring down.

On they went to the place known as the Zeiss. Here was where the Bittern had been seen.
As they neared the lair of the Bittern a "Hero" from the Gods was sent to aid them in the form of a birdwatcher from South Wales. He was blessed by the All-father having already captured 200 pictures this year of feathered creatures including the fierce Red-Backed Shrike only a few days ago. Surely the heroes would have some luck now.

They entered Zeiss and found other friendly heroes on a similar quest. All had many a good saga to boast themselves. All stared into the lair of the Bittern a thick reed bed bordering some reens. Bitterns have amazing camouflage. The Bittern could be perching there in the reeds right in front of the heroes and they would not notice until it moved and usually it is too late as they are known to fly straight into the depths of the reeds never to be seen again.

Suddenly there was a cry of alert "There it is - no there they are!!!". Peering out at the reeds the heroes saw not one but two Bitterns. These great beasts had revealed themselves at last.

The first was hidden in the reeds and really hard to see unless it moved. The second was stooped over the reen waiting for its prey. This Bittern was as still as a statue for many minutes before springing into action- its neck extending to almost three times its size darting into the water. The watching heroes gasped in awe as it plucked a watery beast known as a Perch from the water. It then swallowed it whole - down in one go.

Bittern swallowing a Perch

Down on one

Its got a very long neck

Out from the reeds

Stalking the Reeds

Amazing camo. If it goes in there you will not see it.
Fishing at the edge of the reeds

Our heroes rejoiced what a rare sight to behold. The Bitterns normally shy beasts put on quite a performance showing very well from time to time in clear sight before skulking back into the reeds.

The Quest was complete the Bittern beast had been captured :)

Now it was time to return with a bounty of memory cards full of Bittern pics and a tale or two to tell the sagas readers.

For one last challenge, our Heroes traversed to the place called the Willow Hide where they waited for a bonus beast to capture - the secretive and rarely seen Water Rail.

From the dark depths of a bramble tunnel, it came. Patiently and quietly the heroes waited and then it was there in front of them searching for leftovers from the bird feeders.

Water Rail at the Willow Hide

Amazing Plumage

Often heard but not seen. Its call sounds like a pig squealing.

If the heroes had pints in their hands they would have shouted "Skol Skol Skol".

It had been a great adventure and one that will live long in the tales of at least two birdwatchers if not a lot more.

Forgive me for my Viking Saga tale style today. I could not help myself and try something different :)


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