David White from RSPB Lakenheath Fen tells us all about a Bittern's unusual tale!


The following blog post is based on a media release that was sent out this morning. 

RSPB and British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) staff are celebrating the fact that a bittern that was taken into care and released at RSPB Rye Meads in Hertfordshire has been seen alive and well at RSPB Lakenheath Fen!

Bitterns are scarce and secretive members of the heron family that only nest in reedbeds. In 2017, there were 166 “booming male” bitterns (males in breeding condition) in Britain. This number has increased from a low of 11 booming males in Britain in 1997.

In mid-September 2016, a female bittern with minor injuries was found by a roadside pond near Letchworth, Hertfordshire. It was taken into care near Stevenage by Caroline Huxtable at Wildlife Welfare.  After a couple of days, it was moved to nearby RSPB Rye Meads, a wetland nature reserve near Hoddesdon.

Once it was decided that the bird was in good enough health, permission was sought from the BTO to fit a metal ring with a unique number to the bird, as very few bitterns are ringed in Britain each year. The bird was ringed by the Rye Meads Ringing Group and then released on the reserve. The bird was resighted at RSPB Rye Meads five months later on 22 February 2017.

Almost two years later, a bittern with a ring on its left leg was seen and photographed from Mere Hide at RSPB Lakenheath Fen on 7 May this year by Dawn Balmer from the BTO.  The bird was then photographed by l photographer and regular reserve visitor David Gowing on 20 May. Interestingly, a bittern with a ring on its left leg was photographed at RSPB Lakenheath Fen in June 2017, and was very likely this individual.

David Gowing's image can be found here:

image: https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/community/resized-image.ashx/__size/550x0/__key/communityserver-blogs-components-weblogfiles/00-00-01-22-40/DSC_5F00_4547.jpg


Image credit: David Gowing

Thank you very much to David for sharing this image with us. 

RSPB and BTO staff received an image of the bird on 31 May and part of the unique combination on the ring could be read for the first time. Staff in the Ringing Unit at the BTO were then able to confirm that the bird photographed was the individual that was ringed at RSPB Rye Meads in September 2016.

David White, Visitor Experience Officer at RSPB Lakenheath Fen said: “Bitterns are not known for flying very far during their lives so it is incredible to think that this bird has come all of this way. If this bird hadn’t had been ringed by the Rye Meads Ringing Group, we would have never known where it had come from and how far it had travelled to get here.

What is even more incredible is that it was found by the side of a road! What could have been a sad ending for a scarce and beautiful bird has now been turned into a wonderful story, as this bittern is now happily skulking around in the reedbeds at RSPB Lakenheath Fen. This year, we know that there are at least 10 booming males on the reserve, so hopefully, this bird will breed on the reserve with one of those males. ”

Dawn Balmer from BTO said: ”It was exciting the see the bittern had a metal ring on but sadly my photos weren’t quite good enough to read the ring. David Gowing’s excellent photo of the bittern in flight enabled us to read part of the ring, and identify exactly where and when the bird had been ringed. Only a handful of bitterns are ringed each year (three in 2016), so this has provided valuable information on survival and movements”.

Alan Harris from the Rye Meads Ringing Group said: ”This is a wonderful example of the value of rehabilitating birds, and by ringing the bird we have been able to show this was a great success, and provide some unique information on the movement of bitterns’.

RSPB Lakenheath Fen is open at all times. The visitor centre and toilets are open daily 9am-5pm. RSPB members visit for free. There is an entrance charge for non-members: Adults £3, students £2, children £1.50 (first child free per family group) Please ring: 01842 863400 or e-mail: lakenheath@rspb.org.uk; for more information.

RSPB Rye Meads is open daily from 9am - 5pm or dusk if earlier. RSPB members visit for free. There is a charge of £4 per vehicle for non-members. Please ring: 01992 708383 or e-mail: rye.meads@rspb.org.uk

Read more at https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/community/placestovisit/lakenheathfen/b/lakenheathfen-blog/archive/2018/06/13/a-bittern-39-s-unusual-tale.aspx#xA8iJfOvIZyvgpgb.99