Little, and even littler, Bitterns.

Subject: Little, and even littler, Bitterns.
From: Dr Richard Nowotny <>
Date: Fri, 13 Nov 1998 00:49:03 +1100
In a recent, ? slightly smug posting I wrote the following:

"Then, out of nowhere, Little Bittern just "popped" into my mind.  I know
why - we've seen Little Bittern on a number of occasions on the south Texas
coast (at Anahuac Reserve, in fact), both at close quarters clinging to
reed stems and flying low across the reeds.  The colour is unmistakeable,
and the size and behaviour were the same."

Most readers were either unaware of my error or were too decent to bring it
to my attention.  Not so Chris Lester who, rather than leave me basking in
the mild self-satisfied glory of my remarkable memory, sent me this little

"The  "conversation" on this topic has been most interesting.  However, I
think you mean Least Bittern in Texas, not Little. This observation is
without the benefit of any reference texts as I am at work.  I can look it
up for you if you like?"

With friends like this...........!!
He's right, of course (damn it).  Least Bittern, Ixobrychus exilis, it is.
I passed on Chris's very "kind" offer to look it up for me (and did it
myself, using the sensational Handbook of the Birds of the World).
So - apologies ++.
     - justification - I also was without any reference at the time. 
     - rationalisation - Least and Little Bittern (I. minutus) form a
superspecies with the Yellow Bittern, I. sinensis, of India/SE Asia/etc.
All three are very similar, although the greatest similarity, and it is
very close, is between Least and Little (thank goodness, for the sake of my
tattered reputation).

The distribution of Little Bittern is actually rather interesting, with the
Australian and New Guinea populations (race dubius) not only remarkably
separated from the races of Europe and Africa (with some wintering birds in
northern India), but with Yellow Bittern neatly sandwiched between them.

Anyway, found out and revealed as a minor fraud - I still saw the Little
Bittern (and Chris didn't!).


From:    Dr Richard Nowotny,
             Melbourne, Australia.
             Tel. (w) 61-3-9214.1420

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