The Bittern Hide

THIS IS THE VIEW looking east from the Bittern Hide at the RSPB’s Old Moor Wetlands reserve at Wath-on-Dearne, South Yorkshire. Temperature, a balmy 24°C.

We didn’t spot the reserve’s resident but elusive Bittern. During the summer it never ‘boomed’, so it’s thought to be either a juvenile or a female.

But, thanks to a birdwatcher sitting near us in the hide we saw the equally elusive Water Rail, emerging from the reeds and crossing a grassy gap. I’m pretty sure that it’s a lifer, a first for me. Oddly, it was a bird that I was very familiar with as a child; a terrace of old stone-built cottages on our street stood empty, awaiting demolition, and my friend Stephen went rummaging there. He rescued a leatherbound copy of Cassell’s Science Popularly Explained (1856) by David A. Wells, which I still have on my shelf, and a stuffed water rail in a glass fronted cabinet, long since vanished. A little time capsule commemorating some Victorian’s fascination with natural history.

There was a flock of well over a hundred of these waders in the scrape at the other side of the reserve. I’m not good at waders and these looked far from distinctive so I took notes and consulted one of the field guides in the visitor centre.

The bird that I looked up was Golden Plover – that was my first guess – but the field guide that I consulted showed summer plumage only; a striking golden yellow bird, as the name suggests.

The warden took a look at my sketch and confirmed that was what it was, but of course in winter plumage.

Back home, looking in my current favourite field guide, the Collins Bird Guide, there are several illustrations of various plumages and, helpfully, an illustration of a winter flock, looking just like the birds that we saw.

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