Great Bittern (Simon Osbourne)
Imagine the scene: it's a freezing, frosty morning. The sun has just risen and the sky is a beautiful shade of blue. I'm at The Scrubs hoping to discover 4 species of bird that I haven't yet seen this year on my patch.
It's the 11th hour and I'm getting desperate.
Walking through the grassland I flush 4 Common Snipe. In itself this is a veritable swarm. I normally never see more than 3 together (though we have recorded 4 birds before a couple years ago). I desperately try to string them as Jack Snipes but their calls are all wrong and their bills are too long!
I sit on a bench by Chats Paddock and watch the south western sky in the vain hope of seeing a gaggle of wild geese or a wandering Hen Harrier. Instead, one hour's watching is rewarded by a few Woodpigeons, Black-headed & Common Gulls and ubiquitous Carrion Crows.
Despondent, I walk west adjacent to the embankment that marks the north western border of the site adding a female Reed Bunting and a pair of Mistle Thrushes to the list. Nice birds but nothing new. As I'm about to leave I look over my shoulder and something catches my eye. Distantly from the south east, I notice a large bird heading south west. In a split second I realise that it's a heron - but something's not quite right about it.
As I train my bins on it I see that despite being large, it 'felt' smaller than a Grey Heron. It had a far smaller, compact neck bulge, long legs sticking out from its rear and seemed dark. I could not truly discern any colour because of the distance and the fact that it was flying past the glare of the rising sun. Crucially its flight pattern was very different to Grey Heron. Instead of languid flaps and glides on bowed wings, this bird flapped continuously, appearing like a huge Short-eared Owl. I watched it as it disappeared into the south west skies.
I instantly new that I was watching a Bittern - but in broad daylight over west London? Had I been in Norfolk I would have called it immediately and thought nothing of it. But it's a different kettle of fish when you see birds out of context.
Anyway, after some deliberation I decided to count it as The Scrubs' first ever Bittern and our 97th species for the year. Yesterday's prayer was answered. What will tomorrow, the last morning of 2008 bring?