birding-aus Bitterns and NOT DUCKS

To: "Birding-aus" <>
Subject: birding-aus Bitterns and NOT DUCKS
From: "Michael Todd" <>
Date: Fri, 26 Mar 1999 12:36:49 +1100
Hello all,
In an attempt to steer the conversations away from ducks and duck-hunting (obviously a very touchy subject among members of BA) I thought I'd mention a little experience I had with a Black Bittern yesterday. I am seeing Black Bitterns just about every day around the swamps around Pormpuraaw (western side of Cape York). Even though I think that this probably isn't very surprising up here I still get a buzz every time I see one (coming from down south where I didn't see them very often at all). On a number of occasions I had seen a Black Bittern lob down in a patch of sedges near where I often had mist nets set. Being a fairly shy character he would usually realise his mistake and take off again. In flight is how I usually see the BB around here. Just as a sidenote I also see a lot of Striated Herons, Pied Herons and Night Herons here as well, often silhouetted at dawn and dusk. I've noticed that the BB tends to hold its legs in such a way that the feet bend up at almost a 130 degree angle to its legs, more so than in the other herons- has anyone else noticed this feature- its probably already been covered in HANZAB!
Anyway, as I wanted to get a closer look at the BB I constructed a ramshackle but very heavy hide out of hardwood store pallets and hessian bags and erected it near where I believed the BB to be feeding. Yesterday I was treated to some closer observations of the sneaky character. I entered the hide at about 3:30 pm and apart from watching egrets feed (also quite interesting) there was no sign of my old friend until 5:15 pm when he fell from the sky and flopped in an ungainly fashion into a bush at the edge of a shoreline of sedges. By this time I was daydreaming (David Geering- don't say you're not surprised!), and before I knew it I was focussing on the BB's backside disappearing into the sedges.
From then until 5:45 pm I anxiously scanned the shoreline hoping to gain a better look at the BB. It obviously didn't feed out in the open water like the egrets. At 5:45 pm I found myself looking at what I thought to be a log just behind the sedges. I realised that there wasn't a log there before and sure enough when I focussed on it it was the body of my BB with the head hidden behind a bush. It was standing with its body parallel to the ground, appearing not to move. After I had watched it for a few minutes I noticed that it was moving but in what seemed to me to be an extraordinary fashion. It would move very fast, almost jerkily for a distance of about 1 cm every 5-10 seconds. The overall impression was of no movement whatsoever, yet the bird had moved. I think that he had insinuated himself into my line of sight without my even realising it. Then suddenly he turned around and gave me the only half decent look I had of him all afternoon, before freezing again in a more upright fashion looking into a gap in the sedges. After about 2 minutes he plunged his head into the sedges and started swallowing a frog (probably a Rocket Frog Litoria nasuta). After this he slipped out of view again and he didn't see him anymore although I know he was still there.
Although I didn't realise it beforehand, It was great being able to watch Great and Intermediate Egrets feeding in the hour and a half before I was able to watch the BB. My impression was that while they all fed in the same sort of way, ie. by stealth and sudden impact, the BB just preferred to do it from places of greater cover whereas the egrets were happy to do it from out in the open.
Anyway, I hope all that was remotely interesting and that it takes peoples minds off ducks, shooting, and animal liberation. I might say though, that it will be a little sad if people aren't able to put forward points of view on things (not necessarily their own) without being howled down. Whatever happened to discussion and freedom of speech?
Best wishes,
Michael Todd
Finch Researcher,
Dept.of Environment and Heritage,
Pormpuraaw, Qld, Australia, 4871
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