I think as Photographers we all have a nemesis species. Mine has always been the Bittern, I had great views of an over wintering bird at Slimbridge one year way in the distant past, before I took up photography to the extent that I do now. In the 4 or 5 years since I have been teased with glimpses and empty promises. Even the bird that flushed from the edge of the reed at the bottom of Mum and Dads garden didn’t hang around long enough for me to photograph. Maybe the fact that I almost stood on it and quite possibly almost s**t myself as it erupted from the riverside in front of me contributed to the fact it never got its picture taken. This also almost resulted in a very nearly broken camera lens as I almost lost grip of my tripod.
Locally seeing Bittern is a bit of a gamble, like looking for a needle in the haystack and various other cliches. Without any large areas of reed bed nearby the best to hope for is a flyover or flushing a bird passing through from the edge of the river. So the best place to head to see them every winter is Blashford Lakes on the south western edge of the New Forest. A bit of a drive from my local patch at about 45 miles but well worth it for the wide range of other diverse wintering wildfowl and woodland birds. The Ivy North hide overlooks a relatively small area of reed that fringes the quite large Ivy Lake. Each winter from November on wards reports usually appear daily of individual Bittern crossing the cut channels in the reeds. On a fair few occasions’ two birds had been reported so any time I am in that area during the winter months I always try make an effort to visit and spend a little time in the Ivy North hide to see if I can spot one.
Now as with most big reserves, hides that only have a few open windows are usually taken pretty quickly, with a photographer camped out in them day in day out for weeks upon end. The Ivy North Hide is most definitely one of those kind of hides. With only the two side windows opening, each are always taken. In the past 4 years I have probably visited at least a dozen times. Having to make do with peering through the murky tinted glass as the clear views are protected religiously by most usually extremely rude ‘Togs’. Most visits I have not seen anything nor has anyone else that I have spoken too, but on a few occasions you get the typical response oh you missed it by 5 minutes. I’m sure these campers take satisfaction in saying that to someone like me, just to ruin my day!
So fast forward to February 2016 and I still hadn’t seen a Bittern posing nicely in front of my lens. It was an extremely drizzly and murky Sunday. My girlfriend was at work, and I was sat at home bored off my t*ts. I thought I know I’ll go and have a look in the hides at Blashford, it was such a sh**ty day that I didn’t hold up much hope of any taking any photographs so I only took my 400mm lens, manily so I didn’t have to lug around my heavy tripod. As I drove down the M27 the light got worse, it was cold and I was generally still feeling increasingly more miserable. On arrival at Blashford I wandered off to the Ivy North Hide first and was shocked to find that it was empty, a luxury I had never encountered before. I perched myself down on the bench, got my camera setup and gazed out of the open window at the drizzle cloaked reed bed.
The whistle of hundreds of Teal and the odd squeak of a Moorhen the only noise to break the stillness of the day. A few brave souls came and went, eager to get out of the cold, but soon finding the hide didn’t offer much of a respite. Several times I considered moving on, but then thought to myself it’s not like I had anything else to do. The Minutes ticked by into an hour, I continually stared out at this gap in the reed bed where the reed was cut shorter. Nothing moving at all, more minutes ticked by and still I had the hide to myself when eventually I registered some movement. The gap was no more than 30 feet away but already halfway across it was a bloody Bittern. Finger to the shutter button I clicked away best I could as this skulker worked its way in slow motion across the small gap.
This was about the time I wished I had my big lens. Although the 400mm is perfect for handholding it hasn’t delivered the images I was expecting when getting it. Trying to shoot this prehistoric looking bird perfectly camouflaged against the dying reed was proving difficult. Even more so when it caught a fish, a fair size Jack Pike I think. I couldn’t work an angle to get a clear shot as odd strands of loose reed covered either the head or eyes, I guess that’s the restriction from photographing from a set position and a hide with only one window. Anyhow I got some great views of this shy bird and some photos to match.
It was even better to have the hide to myself and to witness the whole encounter on my own. Even if I had become one of those hide window hogging a**sholes I mentioned earlier!