Bittern at the Mouth of the Powlett!

To: "Birding-Aus" <>
Subject: Bittern at the Mouth of the Powlett!
From: "Elizabeth Shaw" <>
Date: Tue, 17 Jun 2003 23:51:44 +1000
Hi all!
On the way over to Wonthaggi from Phillip Island this morning I noticed the Powlett River had risen quite a lot after recent rain covering low lying paddocks, so on the way home in the afternoon I decided to drive down to the carpark near the Mouth of the Powlett and check the area out for birds. 
The water had covered all the salt marsh which is usually exposed and the were only a few small grebes on the water and some silver Gulls and ibis and White-faced Herons and Masked Lapwings in the paddocks.  On the trip back to the main road I glanced to the right among some shallow inundation between the carpark and the bridge I noticed an unusual shape slinking through the water near some Knobby Club Rush.  The brakes went on, naturally, and I recognised a shape I had only seen in bird books up till now - a Bittern! 
I moved the car to a position where I wasn't blocking the road completely  and watched this wonderful bird for about ten minutes as it poked around the clumps of Club Rush freezing every few moments with its beak pointing skywards.  this gave me plenty of time to study the beautiful markings down its throat, its very dark (almost black) back and a lovely patch of rufous behind its eye.
I only had the set of Gould League bird books in the car at the time, (but I always have at least one pair of binoculars with me!) and the nearest I could find was Brown Bittern (now called Australasian).  The illustration was a considerably lighter brown than the bird I had in front me.
While I watched it from the car, 10-20 metres away, it would keep an eye on me but generally continue on it's way relatively undisturbed, occasionally darting its head into the water for a morsel of food, I presume.  A couple of cars passed me and it didn't even flinch.  Then a local stopped to ask what I was looking at and got out of his car to see.  Unfortunately the bird took off and flew over the road and back towards the dunes and a large area of wetland/saltmarsh, but its slow, heron-like flight was able to be observed.
The local turned out to be a farmer, Clive Hollins, who owns a fair bit of land in the vicinity.  He said it was darker than the ones he has in the wetland on his farm, so we exchanged phone numbers, and set off for our respective homes to check the bird books.  After studying all the books I had at home I have concluded it was a mature Australasian Bittern,  Now to tell the world!
Elizabeth Shaw
Surefoot Explorations
Phillip Island
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