Saturday, 16 June 2012

Breaking the jinx

Female Little Bittern by the River Colne at Stocker's Lake, Rickmansworth, this morning.
Back in June 1995, in the half-light of dawn on Hampstead Heath early one Sunday morning, I fell victim to the curse of the Little Bittern. I had failed to get to the site the previous evening for a variety of reasons, chief among which was the fact that I was on crutches (after an unfortunate incident the previous week involving a Black Bear while I was on honeymoon in California - don't ask). But the thought of missing the bird kept me awake most of the night, so I got up in the small hours, drove to the site and hobbled through the woods to a small pond and found ... an early-rising crowd of disappointed birders. Clearly, the target vagrant had departed.

I didn't have to wait long for the next opportunity to dip - another turned up the following spring, but near Epsom way over on the other side of the city the evening before I had to drive up to Scotland. Foiled again, but only for another year, and then I got to Rye Meads soon after a two-day male in mid-May had vanished. And that was my lot for the next 15 years ...

Present intermittently for about a week now, the bird shows well at times, but can be very skulking on occasion.
Roll on 2012, and the jinx looked set to continue when news broke belatedly of a Little Bittern in London last week - when I was in Hungary. I flew out for a major optical product launch on Monday (more anon), only to hear within 24 hours that a Little Bittern had been photographed at the weekend and identified after the event; fortunately, it was refound on Wednesday by Steve Blake, and a number of friends also got to see it that day (albeit not very well from the sound of it). There was radio silence on Thursday and Friday, so having returned from Hungary just before midnight last night I thought the opportunity to see the bird had slipped away. Finally, though, after it was reported again this morning, I made it to Stocker's Lake in time to get brief but excellent views, the bird making several short sorties into more open riverbank vegetation from its hiding place deep within the reeds. So, finally, the personal jinx of the London Little Bittern is broken.

Having spotted something to eat in the river, the compact fisher king stalks through the reeds towards its prey.
Previous London records of Little Bittern:
1954 30 May – Nazeing GP; 20-24 August - Richmond Park; 27-29 August - Beddington SF
1956 18 June-14 July - two, Beddington SF*; 6-14 August - Beddington SF
1961 22 August – found dead, Weybridge
1976 17 October – Sevenoaks NR
1995 18 June – ad female, Hampstead Heath
1996 30 May-1 June – ad male, Epsom Common
1997 17-18 May – male, Rye Meads

* There was speculation that the series of records of this southern European vagrant from Beddington SF may have involved a breeding attempt (London Bird Report 56: 184-185), but this was not proved in Britain until 1984, when a pair raised three young at Potteric Carr, Yorkshire (British Birds 104: 495; Wilson and Slack 1996).

1 comment:

  1. Well done, Dominic. Determination pays off in the end! Having been to Selsey Bill in the morning I went up in the afternoon had had great views of it feeding.



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