Sunday, September 9, 2007

Bittern Sweet Birding

I gaze at the glistening water through the dense, brilliant green of the rushes and sedges. This is a familiar place that reaches back to my childhood. I recollect a vast string of memories not unlike the constant V's of ducks and geese that once winged high overheard. It was then that I silently sat at the bottom of a duck blind peering from beneath old and young men, firearms, and vegetation. But today, I stroll with tripod, scope, and binoculars on a similar quest to draw birds in or to sneak close enough to shoot them...... this time with a camera.

The water depth was perfect, and a dozen or so Great Egrets appeared on the horizon as I climbed the levee to the impoundments. I was surprised to see decoys and hunters concealed in the weeds, awaiting early teal that were restlessly darting through danger from one section of the bottoms to another. Since it's designated status as McPherson Wetlands came into being, I frequent this large "Basin" in the middle of the Kansas wheat country. But this time was different. There was change evident in the cool northerly breeze and the activity level of the waders. Great egrets were in great abundance, their shimmering white contrasting with the dark plumage of the White faced Ibises, also in abundance.
Immature Black-crowned Night Herons occasionally lifted their heads above the vegetation, and I was delighted to see a mature one 100 yards away in the clear.

As the sun's rays shifted toward perpendicular, its golden hues brought the landscape to life. It was then that another golden hue appeared in the reeds. At first there was only one golden bird, but I scanned the area more closely. Then, they appeared! American Bitterns, lined up and randomly spaced along a 1/2 mile stretch of the slough. They glowed in the waning sunlight. I stopped counting at 15, and set up the scope to see if I could capture the image. See if you can count the four bitterns in this photograph! If you see more, please let me know! Up to this point, I had seen 2 or 3 American Bitterns in my life. I quickly surpassed that number tenfold! What a sight!
Gunshots broke the hypnotic spell and my eyes turned upward as hundreds of startled egrets, night-herons, bitterns, teal, and mallards rose into the orange and purple twilight skies. The flocks twisted and turned above the waters, seeking solace in the marsh once again. Three Northern Harriers scanned the flocks for easy prey.
Soon, the sun fell beneath the horizon, and the guns silenced. I started my slow meander back to the car as four Sora flushed from the side of the levee. One hundred or so White-faced Ibises sailed overhead. Around seventy five Blue-wings confidently tipped their wings and fell into the wetlands, safe for the coming dark hours. The symphony of rails, frogs, and insects filled the air, and night fell again upon these wetlands. I smiled and remembered the joy of this evening, its movement, light, color, smells, and sounds. I awed at this extraordinary ecosystem, which, through the years, has firmly implanted in my heart.

1 comment:

N8 said...

That Night Heron is a beauty, looks to be in very fresh plumage.