We've started monitoring for booming Bitterns this week ahead of the coming breeding season, and lo and behold, we've had some fantastic sightings! These highly secretive and shy birds are notoriously difficult to spot, but visitors have been getting great views of one from the roadside on Phalarope pool - we've even got a great photo to share which was taken by one of our wonderful visitors just yesterday!
Bittern image by Paul Green
If you've never had the experience of hearing their amazingly loud (and slightly eerie) 'booms', it sounds a lot like someone blowing over an empty bottle - the booming males are what we're listening for at the moment, as this means they are trying to attract mates. Booming has been heard a number of times over the past few days, as the sound is able to carry an incredible distance through the air - if you hear or see any bitterns whilst you're out on the reserve, please let us know! These rare birds have never been known to breed on the reserve before, so it would be an incredible event if we have even one breeding pair this year, and at the moment, the signs are looking good!
Bitterns aren't the only great sighting we've had over on the flashes either - a Peregrine falcon was spotted yesterday, perched on a nearby pylon. These large and powerful falcons are renowned for their speed, reaching an incredible 200mph or more in their characteristic hunting dives. Although they are naturally a cliff nesting species, they have been making use of tall buildings in many towns and cities in recent decades, where there are plenty of feral pigeons to predate.
Peregrine falcon image by Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
Their beautiful smoky blue-gray plumage, white and speckled underparts and bold black 'moustache' marks make them very distinctive. In flight they can be distinguished by their relatively long, broad and pointed wings, and if you're lucky enough to see one chasing prey, you'll be able to appreciate just how amazingly swift and agile they are in the air.
Another unusual sighting comes in the form of a water pipit - if you, like me, wouldn't know a water pipit if you saw one, you'd be forgiven as they aren't a resident species in the UK. They are winter visitors, mainly to Southern and Eastern England, from the mountains of central and southern Europe where they breed. The water pipit is a fairly indistinct little bird, with muddy greyish-brown upperparts and a pale, streaky underside. They also have a distinctive pale stripe over their eyes, delicate thin beaks, and dark legs. Despite their nondescript and unassuming looks, it's quite a priveledge to see one, as we get just under 200 over-wintering birds per year in the UK.
Water pipit artwork by Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)
We seem to have had an influx of smews in the past week, with as many as four being seen at a time! They have been spotted over on the flashes, as well as at the other end of the reserve from Village Bay viewpoint and Charlie's hide. Keep an eye out on the water close to the edges of the islands, as these handsome diving ducks like to be near cover.
Remember to come and write your wildlife sightings in the book after a walk round the reserve - now that spring's on it's way, we're bound to be seeing a lot more wildlife action!