Friday, July 28, 2006

No Longer Bitter(n) in the Least

Nemesis Bird.

A term describing any particular birds that one can never seem to find, no matter how hard one tries. Usually includes the more maddening element that several people JUST saw it before you arrive or just after you have left.

Mine has been the Least Bittern for years. I have gotten used to phrases such as, "I don't understand. There are usually 3 or 4 in here every time I go through..." and reports of sightings in places I have driven through just the morning before and came up empty.

After a large influx of Bittern sightings reported out at Viera Wetlands treatment plant near Melbourne, I took advantage of a rare Sunday without banding scheduled and drove over to be there by daybreak. I was assured I should be able to find several glimpses of my target bird. No problem!

I took a drive around the 'click ponds' counting wading birds and a few alligators and then headed over toward the wetlands proper. Posted on the chain link fence near the front office was an impromptu sign. A message, hastily written in marker, read, "Wetlands closed. Line break."

Gripping the steering tightly, I turned to car back toward Orlando. Might have even cursed. I pictured those little herons discovering my scheme to locate them the night before and working feverishly to make a hole in the pipeline in an effort to spoil my day.

The following morning the wetlands were reported open again. Least Bitterns were reported. Of course.

Ah, well. There will always be next year. I actually thought that. Bah!

Two weeks later found another opening in the schedule and the niggling need to find that bird kept brushing up against the back of my brain. At 5:30 AM on July 16th I started my drive toward the wetlands. So did a lot of other birders.

The drive was more crowed than usual. A number of super-huge lenses were poking out of slow moving vehicles. I was focusing more on sighting my Nemesis.

The usual suspects were easy. Common Moorhens escorted many, many chicks. Limpkins hung close to the pickerel weeds near the road. Ibis glided in as the sun rose higher in the morning sky. Oddly, I saw NO raptors the whole day. However, there were more Black-bellied Whistling Ducks than I have ever seen in one place. The first trip I ever made to Viera found zero BBW Ducks. Now they are breeding there.

It took more than an hour, but I finally saw a small bird weaving through a stand of bulrushes. At last! The Least Bittern hunt was over! I took a few really bad shots and then saw another Bittern farther out, walking on the lily pads out in the open. Whew!

I was content to head home at this point. The images weren't that great but were enough to verify my find. The check mark could hit the list after nearly 6 years of searching. Since it was still early I decided to swing around the wetlands a bit more. Who knew what might show up.

Same species as before. Added a pair of Least Terns, a few American Coots, Tri-colored and Great Blue Herons. Found a few more Bitterns along the way. Slightly closer than before but nothing to share on the photo web sites. Then...

While taking some shots of a Moorhen with a couple chicks in tow I glanced over to the left and noticed a couple of birders back on one of the berms. The man was near the shoreline next to a small clump of bulrushes. He had a standard 50mm lens and was getting low to the ground and snapping away.

"He's got a Least Bittern right next to the road!" I figured. Had to be. There were no other birds in sight. Now I had to get over there. Problem is, all of the roads are one way and I was already past the spot they were at. I needed to get all the way around the berms again, and fast! And hope the bird stayed put.

I safely drove around the roads as quick as possible, trying not to attract too much attention to my urgency. 15 minutes later I eased up to spot I thought was were I saw the couple earlier.

The Bittern was still there! It was so busy searching for small minnows that it didn't even look up when I stepped out of the car. I shot a roll of film and a lot of digitals. From as close as 8 feet from the Bittern.

Least Bittern

All those guys shooting birds from 60 yards away with giant lenses and here I was right next to my subject. Just the way I like it. I headed home. If I were walking, there would have been a spring in my step. A leap in the air for good measure. Instead I drove and smiled.

Main lesson of the day: When birding, don't just look for birds. Pay attention to fellow birders. They sometimes will tip you off to something that makes your day.

No comments: