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Bonanza of Bitterns

It’s been a weird spring. As it was last year, it’s been cool and wet, and migration has been slow or delayed. Two groups of birds I live for in spring are shorebirds and warblers, but migration has been incredibly slow for both, with few warblers other than the ubiquitous Yellow-rumped showing up, and very few shorebirds other than yellowlegs. Other songbirds have also been slow to arrive, as even the ever present Eastern Kingbird has been extremely scarce to date.

However, like last year, one bird has been making itself quite visible…American Bittern. It’s odd, because I went several years without seeing an American Bittern, and now in the past two years, I’ve seen many. I went birding this weekend west of Sioux Falls, and in the span of one mile, came across three American Bitterns, including one doing the classic unk-a-lunk-a song while his buddy watched from nearby.

Warm weather finally arrives today, with a high near 76. Hopefully with the warm weather warblers and other migrants arrive as well, but I’m thankful that the bitterns have taken up a little bit of the slack this spring! A few photos of the bitterns from the weekend:

American Bittern - Botaurus lentiginosus
American Bittern May 11th, 2019 Near Grass Lake, Minnehaha County, South Dakota. This one was EXTREMELY close to the road and allowed as good of looks at an American Bittern as I’ve ever had.
American Bittern - Botaurus lentiginosus
American Bittern May 11th, 2019 Near Grass Lake, Minnehaha County, South Dakota. A lot further out than the first, and not in nearly as good a hiding spot! Bitterns usually can be hard to spot, but this guy didn’t get the message on how Bitterns are supposed to act. I think the fact that he isn’t even bothering to stretch his neck out and act like brown cattails shows that he knew he blew it. ūüôā
American Bittern - Botaurus lentiginosus
An instant favorite and the cover shot of my main website page, this American Bittern had a buddy! I watched this one for about 5 minutes while the Yellow-headed Blackbird flitted around the general area where he was “hiding”, hoping to get a shot like this with both birds.

POTD – American Bittern “hiding”

Photo of the day, for a bird that gets high marks for trying, but failing, to hide. I didn’t have much luck shooting birds yesterday, but did run across this American Bittern along the rip-rap bordering a huge wetland area.¬† The ol’ stick-my-head-up-and-they-won’t-see-me approach Bitterns use may work when they’re standing in the middle of a bunch of dry cattails, but kind of falls apart when they’re out in the open, particularly next to red quartzite.

American Bittern - Botaurus lentiginosus

American Bittern “hiding” at Weisensee Slough in western Minnehaha County, South Dakota.

 

Photographing a Ghost

Virginia Rail - Rallus limicola

Virginia Rail
May 3rd, 2015
Lake County, SD
Canon 70D, 400 5.6L
(Click for larger view)

5 years. Until this week that’s the last time I’d actually seen a Virginia Rail. ¬†I actually think they’re pretty common around here, as you do hear them quite a bit when you’re around wetlands with a lot of cattails and shallow water. ¬†Actually SEEING a Virginia Rail though? ¬†That’s a treat.

I admit I cheated in getting this photograph.  I rarely do it any more, but I did use a digital call of a Virginia Rail on my iPhone to attract this bird.  I was birding in Lake and Kingsbury counties, trying to concentrate on shorebirds and other water birds.  In a very large wetland on the Lake/Kingsbury county border, I heard one, then another, then another Virginia Rail.

Virginia Rails have several vocalizations, but whenever I think of Virginia Rails, I think of the Three Stooges. ¬†Yes, the Three Stooges. ¬†Why, you ask? ¬†Because their grunting call to me always reminds of Curly doing his “Nyuk, Nyuk, Nyuk, Nyuk!!! ¬†That’s what I was hearing on this morning, multiple Virginia Rails doing their very best Curly imitations.

What’s so dang frustrating about these guys, and Sora, another species they always seem to be found in conjunction with around here, is that sometimes when you hear them, they’re vocalizing mere feet from your location. You’re staring at the source of the sound, and instead of “bird”, all you see are cattails and other wetland vegetation. ¬†After 5 years of not actually seeing a Virginia Rail, I did indeed pull out the iPhone to see if I had a Virginia Rail call.

I did, and after a few Curly-style “Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk Nyuks”, I saw a twinge of motion in the cattails. ¬†He was only perhaps 20 feet away, peering out from amongst a stand of cattails. ¬†He was obviously interested in whatever fellow Three Stooges fan was making that noise, but he also made it quite clear that he wasn’t going to come out into the open. ¬†Not wanting to disturb him any further, I took what photos I could and stopped playing the tape.

5 years, but I got my Virginia Rail fix, and a photo that turned out better than I expected. ¬†It does a great job of showing how these guys like to stay hidden. ¬†Unless I’m incredibly lucky, now I’ll wait another 5-10 years or so before again trying to get a photo of one of these guys.

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