Sometimes you have to look hard to find a bird that blends in so well with its surroundings as does the American bittern.
I was with another birder on Jan. 2 when a photographer drove up and told us where to find a bittern at Hackberry Flat Wildlife Management Area in southwestern Oklahoma.
I had just spent most of the day birding there and was getting ready to leave. I’m glad I didn’t.
The other person and I drove to the spot (“by some cattails” according to the instructions) and looked. And looked. It’s a marsh for pete’s sake! How do we find the proverbial needle in the haystack? I passed the spot coming and going and was about to give up when I saw the truck headlights behind me flash. I turned around. I drove to the driver’s location and followed his pointing finger. Fortunately, our quarry was out in the open and fairly easy to spot.
The bittern didn’t seem to mind our gawking at him (or her.) We stayed in our vehicles as they make the best bird blinds.
The bird very, very slowly moved through the water, hoping to spot a small fish. Occasionally it would wiggle like a cat ready to pounce on a mouse, tensed for the strike, then, poof, nothing.
Occasionally it wound spear a little fish. Sure takes a lot of little fish to feed such a big bird.
I was fortunate once during mating season to paddle past four bitterns well hidden in the grasses bordering the Suwannee Canal at the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Their “goink, de goink” booms entertained me for about a quarter mile. They sound as if they’ve swallowed air in a very strange way, or dropped large rocks into still water.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes the mating call: “The male’s call is preceded by clacking and gulping. To accomplish the pump-er-lunk sound, the male inflates his esophagus by way of almost violent body contortions—opening and closing his bill as if lunging for flying insects—and then uses the stored air to unleash his call. Repeated up to 10 times in succession, the call probably serves as both a territorial signal and an advertisement for mates”
There were some less spectacular birds that day as well, including the killdeer.
And the American pipit.
I can’t wait to go back!
Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
Feel free to reblog or share
Join my Facebook Page
Contact: cindy at cindymcintyre.com