18 September 2010 - Bitterns Bounce Back PDF Print E-mail

Bitterns Bounce Back

BitternIt's good to hear that record numbers of bittern were recorded earlier this year, indicating that this elusive bird is bouncing back.

Bittern are a fantastically camouflaged, shy member of the heron family that frequent a very specific habitat (reedbeds). They actually became extinct in Britain in the late 1800's and started breeding again in 1911. Their population grew slowly, then nosedived until it hit a low of eleven pairs in 1997. Since then a conservation programme has been in place and their numbers have climbed. Because bittern are rarely seen, their numbers are monitored by pinpointing the number of males calling during the breeding season... This year the number rose to 87 which, considering the earlier harsh winter conditions, was really encouraging.

Up until pretty recently British bitterns were almost totally confined to East Anglia, but they have now started to colonise the Somerset Levels. In fact, the number of Somerset birds has risen four-fold in twelve months to 14 birds! I find this very exciting as Somerset is not far away as the crow (or bittern) flies, and the Newport Wetlands Reserve offers a very suitable habitat for them. I have a sneaky feeling that there will be news of bittern breeding in Newport within the next few years.

Comings and Goings

BitternThe passage of migratory birds has started to build up with many reports being made of summer visitors moving back to warmer climes. Large numbers of swallow have been seen passing through and there are numerous sightings of warblers, wheatears, pipits and yellow wagtails being seen moving along coastal sites. However the house martins under my eaves are in no rush to get away.... They have decided to raise a third brood of young which hatched just two weeks ago.

I did a double take the other day when I saw a small group of fieldfare fly by. These colourful thrushes are winter visitors that I don't normally expect to see until October, however a check of the sightings page on the GOS website reveals that they have been seen locally since 6th September. On the same day there was also a report of 2 swift seen above Undy making a rather late dash back to Africa – I don't think that there are many birders who can claim to have seen both fieldfare and swift on the same day!

Saturday Night Entertainment

Don't forget that Gwent Ornithological Society's autumn programme of talks kicks off this evening when the Wye and Usk Foundation give an illustrated presentation of the work they do to improve the habitat, water quality and fisheries of these magnificent local rivers. Rivers are vitally important habitats for countless creatures, including birds and this talk promises to be extremely enlightening.

The talk is being held at Goytre Village Hall (just off the A4042 Newport to Abergavenny road)and starts at 7.30pm. Entry, including tea and biscuits is £2. No need to book, just turn up.

There is another talk in a fortnight's time, Saturday 2nd October (same venue and start time), when the guest speaker will be Tom Dalrymple from Newport Wetlands Reserve. It is ten years since the reserve opened, and in that time it has become an extremely important environmental site, Tom's talk promises to be unmissable for anyone who wants to find out about (arguably) South Wales' premier birdwatching location.

New faces are always welcome at GOS events, for more information visit www.gwentbirds.org.uk or give me a call on the number below. Likewise, if you want me to send you a copy of Gwent Ornithological Society's programme of walks and talks, just let me know.

Keep in Touch

Thank you to all readers that have taken the time to get in touch.

I always enjoy hearing from you and can be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or on 01633 866470.

Mark Stevens