Beautiful winter day with hardly a cloud meant we could be looking into the sun. We were also later than usual, especially after stopping for a light lunch and drink. Bittern Hide was bereft: birders in plenty but no birds.
Should we retrace steps and look towards the sea, which at least meant having the sun on our backs? We decide to try Island Mere first. This is further inland than most others, and of course had the disadvantage of low sunlight across water. Still, there were birds. Cormorants, as often, but also grebes, geese and swans – whoopers had been spotted in the morning. Someone mentioned a bittern: it stepped out then back into the reeds. That usually means the end of bittern sightings, so we settled for what else there was.
Then, surprise: it stepped out of another patch of reed and slowly made its way towards a stretch of water flowing into the mere. It stood up like a caricature of itself, waited a short time then plodded on. There was plenty of time to note its camouflage, and to realise how easily such a big bird can be disguised in full view.
A grey heron landed at the mere’s edge just where the stream debouched. For a short time both were in the viewfinder, an interesting contrast between the slender and the rotund. Would the bittern enter the water? It was like a nervous swimmer tip-toeing to the Christmas dip. Suddenly it darted its beak into the water and drew it back with a fish. A few moments later, having adjusted its prey comfortably, it took off. That was certainly the last we would expect to see of it. The fish looked a good size for a meal and afterwards it would have better things to do than parade for us.
There had been otters and marsh harriers in the morning but they were no more likely to return than the bittern. Nonetheless, with beech trees still helmeted in orange and sunlight glinting off streams there was plenty more to enjoy on the way back to the visitor centre and car park.
Not a long visit but a very rewarding one.