Posted 15th May 2018 by Peter Byrne
Prior to this spring, the boom of the bittern had never been heard on the Isle of Wight
However, that changed when its distinctive mating call was heard at RSPB Brading Marshes.
As the bird's cry grew in volume, so did the excitement, with the bittern’s presence proving the species is recovering, and the RSPB's recently restored wetland is prospering. To conservationists, attracting the bittern is the best indicator of a successful wetland management system.
As a highly secretive wetland bird, bitterns spend most of their time within dense stands of reed, which makes them very difficult to survey. Despite this, scientists count the bittern by listening for the male's foghorn like booming call, which is an indicator that the male is looking for a mate.
The UK bittern population had dramatically fallen - by 1997, there were only 11 booming males left. However, thanks to intensive conservation efforts, their populations have recovered. While this is very welcome news, there are less than 200 at fewer than 75 UK sites, which makes the Isle of Wight discovery even more remarkable.
RSPB Brading Marshes reserve has already seen three new wetland species successfully breed - this is the marsh harrier, little egret and great crested grebe.
The RSPB is hoping the booming bittern's mating call will attract a female, which will successfully breed on the reserve - this will be yet another first for the island.
Keith Ballard, the warden of RSPB Brading Marshes, said: "Hearing a booming bittern on a wetland reserve is like receiving a Michelin star as a restaurant; it’s one of the highest marks of success we could hope for. Bitterns have very selective habitat needs, and to attract them you need a truly thriving ecosystem. The work we have done to manage the reserve for insects, fish, reptiles and mammals, as well as birds, now means we have one of the most UK’s most sensitive species choosing the Isle of Wight as its home."
Image courtesy of RSPB Images / Andy Hay