At RSPB Dungeness, one of the first signs of spring is a booming sound that carries far across the water.
Alarming as it might sound, this strange call is great news for the RSPB. It means Britain’s loudest bird, the bittern, has returned to breed at the reserve. Appropriately, the first mating call of 2018 was recorded just after Valentine’s Day.
Once extinct in the UK, bitterns have only been booming RSPB Dungeness since 2009, yet despite the relatively recent appearance, they are now regular visitors.
This highly secretive type of heron lives in dense reed beds, making them very difficult to survey but last autumn, conservationists have announced that the UK population had reached its highest count since records began.
The birds have proved so popular that the reserve now offer special ‘bittern breakfast’ events, where guests can walk the reed beds just after sunrise; when the chance of hearing, or even seeing, a bittern is highest. Running every Saturday morning between 7-28th April, these events cost £20 per adult (with discounts for members/ and children) and sell out fast. To book your place visit our Dungeness events page.
"The best time and place to see them is April-June. Male bitterns are booming to attract a mate in early spring. Later on you’ll have a chance of seeing the bitterns more active in flight as they fish and fly back to the nest to bring food.”
Louise Kelly, Visitor Experience Officer, RSPB Dungeness
Thanks to funding from an EU life project, habitat works were undertaken to improve the reedbed at the site, and as a result at least two chicks were confirmed in 2012. The species are so elusive it is rare to actually glimpse the chicks but females have been spotted performing feeding flights in other years, so the reserve team are hopeful there are more success stories hidden in the reeds.
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