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Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The AMERICAN BITTERN at Walmsley

I took this morning off work to go and see the American Bittern and thought I would post a few notes for those hoping to go and see it. Please note this information is based on one visit and chatting to others present on site – don’t blame me if it’s not 100% accurate.

The bird can show well but depending on where it is feeding the viewing can be very restricted. I arrived at 0830 and had to wait nearly an hour (in the hide) before I could even view the area the bird was favouring. This was despite, during that hour, the bird showing half a dozen times briefly, then in flight and stood out in the open.

The Tower Hide can hold around 20 people (maybe a few more) but if the bird continues to favour the area it did this morning (and yesterday apparently) then perhaps only half this number stand a chance of satisfactory views. There were a few fractious moments resulting from people moving around when the bird showed, blocked views, those who hadn’t seen it getting nervous etc. Nothing serious, just the usual stuff from those who seem unable to remain chilled, think logically and be polite. If there are numbers at the weekend then it might require people keeping a cool head and/or some sort of queuing/rotation system. The bird seems to be favouring an area northwest of the Tower Hide. This means only those in the left hand end of the hide and seated at the front row can view it satisfactorily. I definitely advise taking a scope as the bird can be at a reasonable distance (c100-150m) and many were struggling to pick it up in bins despite it showing well in the scope. Perhaps if going with friends then just one of you take a scope as there isn’t a lot of spare room. The big advantage of the Tower Hide is the height, allowing the bird to be seen more easily when feeding in ditches. It did this a lot. From dawn to around 1000 it was rarely out in the open for more than a few seconds to a few tens of seconds at any one time. After the numbers in the hide decreased (just after 1000) and there were 10-15 of us left, we watched the bird feeding, sometimes out in the open, for over half an hour (and it was still doing so when I left).

If you can view the area it’s favouring, you use a scope and actually spend time searching for it (rather than playing with your phone, drinking tea or chatting) then you should see it. Patience is the key (both in terms of waiting your turn and in searching for the bird). The wait is well worth the reward – cracking bird! If you get the chance to see it then check out the snake like head movements when it’s feeding …

A few other comments:- There is viewing potential from the screen beneath the hide, but of the gradients involved and vegetation, the bird would have to be clear of the ditches for this to give a reasonable chance of any views.- I was told the other hide holds 5 people but having not visited I won't comment on suitability for viewing. - The entrance to the field used for parking is on quite a steep slope and with the recent rains is now rather churned up. A number of people struggled, with some failing, to get their cars into the field. There’s a lot more rain forecast this week. Good luck! (Paul Bowerman)