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Bitterns booming at Potteric Carr

Thursday 14th August 2014

Bittern at Potteric Carr Nature Reserve Bittern at Potteric Carr Nature Reserve - Credit Vernon Barker

One of the most threatened birds in the UK has bred successfully for the first time at Potteric Carr Nature Reserve in Doncaster.

Potteric Carr Nature Reserve in Doncaster is celebrating this week: after many years of work, patience and careful observations, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust is proud to finally announce that bitterns have successfully bred at the site for the first time.

Bitterns are having a rocky road to recovery following their UK wide extinction around 1885 – a result of habitat loss and persecution at the time. After bitterns returned to Norfolk in 1900 they have continued to struggle as the reedbed habitat they so heavily depend on continues to diminish.

Bitterns have been regular visitors to the reed beds at Potteric Carr since the 1990’s. To begin with sightings were of overwintering birds, with up to six birds being seen in a day; a difficult task in itself for this is a secretive and well camouflaged wading bird. The key to bringing back the bittern across the UK is the improvement and expansion of reedbed habitats and as part of this, in 2004, Potteric Carr completed its Huxterwell Marsh extension.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Reserves Officer Jim Horsfall said: “We are thrilled! Over the last three years male bitterns at Potteric Carr have been making their characteristic booming sound during spring, a call they use to attract mates. This of course gave us hope that one day we may see some young bitterns.”

“Earlier this year there was much booming, followed by many sightings of adult birds, including what appeared to be some courtship flights, where a pair of birds fly together. Over time birders here then observed feeding flights within Huxterwell Marsh; this is where the adult bird returns to the same area to feed the young several times a day through late July and early August yet it was still difficult to confirm breeding. However on Monday (11/08/2014) a young bittern was seen for the first time.”

Potteric view - Credit Matthew Roberts

This is a great success for Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, and evidence that habitat restoration (reedbed habitat photo left by Matthew Roberts, taken on the site) and creation work can have a big impact on rare species. The Trust has also been working to improve the fish populations of the nature reserve, which in turn provide food for bitterns. The UK bittern population was down to less than 20 breeding pairs in the 1990’s, and now the numbers have increased significantly, largely due to better management of existing wetlands and creation of new wetlands.

Jim added: “Seeing bitterns can be difficult due to their camouflaged plumage which blends in perfectly with the reed beds. But patience and a pair of binoculars can pay off. Birds are also seen flying from one reed bed to another giving good views if you time your visit right.”

The young bittern will probably stay around Potteric for a week or two, and then may move to other nearby sites. Bitterns are seen all year round at Potteric Carr Nature Reserve, with the largest numbers seen in winter when the population is swelled by wintering birds from elsewhere in the UK and Europe. Between January and June the males will sound their far carrying low frequency ‘boom’ to attract a female, this can often be heard at Potteric. Once breeding has occurred the male normally takes no further part; it is the female who will build the nest, incubate the eggs and rear the young.

The wonderful news comes soon after Yorkshire Wildlife Trust announced that marsh harrier bred for the first time at Potteric Carr earlier this year. The young marsh harriers can still be seen on the nature reserve.

Tagged with: Species, Bittern, Doncaster, Humberhead Levels, Potteric Carr Nature Reserve