This weekend started with a common garden visitor that had a rather unusual feature. The individual in question was one of our Starlings that appears to have lost a leg! From the looks of it the loss may have been fairly recent as the bird was definitely unsteady on its feet, falling right over on a couple of occasions. Despite the disability it was still able to feed and drink even though there was a bit of bullying going on from the rest of the flock. It was back on Sunday so hopefully will stick around and I can keep an eye on it.

23732 - Mute Swans on the ice at Kenfig NNR

Mute Swans on the ice at Kenfig

My parents were down visiting on Saturday so I thought it was worth another trip to Kenfig NNR in the hope that the Bitterns would put on a show as impressive as they had done for me a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately the day was grey and cloudy so light for photography was definitely going to be an issue. We arrived at the south hide around midday and after speaking to a very friendly birder ascertained that there were at least a couple of Bittern hiding out in the reeds in front of the hide. The ice appeared to have thawed a bit since my last visit meaning that the furthest left cut looked our best bet for a display. An hour passed during which time we saw a Cetti’s Warbler and heard several Water Rail calling, but no Bittern. I was about to suggest we moved on when a casual scan of the north side of the lake revealed a Bittern flying from left to right! It landed in a gap in the reeds to the left of the north hide. Almost simultaneously Emma spotted another flying again from left to right that landed in the area known as Margam Break. This one walked around in the open for a few minutes before slinking off out of sight. Less than five minutes later a third Bittern erupted from the reeds to the left of the south hide and flew the length of the lake before dropping down next to the north hide. Three Bittern in ten minutes was certainly a personal record but we hadn’t got the close views that I had promised my dad.

Taking a risk of missing the two birds that were still somewhere in front of our current position, we took the decision to move around to the north hide in the hope of stumbling across one of the three birds we had just seen head in that direction. The walk around was pretty quiet apart from a Goldcrest at the hide entrance. We opened the door carefully so as not to cause any disturbance as the window shutters were already wide open. I glanced to the right and there feeding in the channel was one of the Bitterns! I quickly got everyone on the bird as it walked around in full view before moving into the reeds. We were just in the process of congratulating one another when it appeared back in the channel and started a slow walk towards us. As my dad snapped away it got closer and closer until it was barely a couple of meters from the hide. At this point it must have realised it was being a bit too showy as it took flight and headed over to the old boathouse where it proceeded to forage along the waters edge. I don’t think I have ever seen Bitterns in such open conditions which must surely be a measure of how desperate they are becoming.

We returned to the south hide for a final watch to find that the birds there had been giving similarly impressive views. Our share came soon enough with two Bitterns taking to the air from our right before flying off to roost on the west shore.

23733 - The Bittern beds at Kenfig NNR

The magic Bittern reed beds

After several years of searching at Kenfig I can’t believe the quality or quantity of views that I have had over the last couple of weeks. The weather has certainly had its part to play but this isn’t exactly the first time that the lake has frozen over so that can’t be the only reason. As for the total number of Bitterns present I can confirm that there are four definites with the possibly of up to six. It is hard to get an accurate count but having watched the lake for most of the afternoon I am confident in my numbers. Can any other lake in the UK beat that at the moment?


Unknown · December 14, 2010 at 10:53 pm

Two really good photos and a fine essay as well. Good job. Boom & Gary of The Vermilon River, Canada.

theconstantwalker · December 14, 2010 at 10:59 pm

Great image of the Swans on the ice.

theconstantwalker · December 14, 2010 at 11:01 pm

Great image of the swans on the ice.

Springman · December 15, 2010 at 12:53 am

Absolutely great story. I hope your Dad got some wonderful pictures. Your image of the Swans is phenomenal. These ponds freeze up so quickly. It's interesting to see the swans bust through the thin ice when the lakes are transitioning. They are very uncoordinated sliding along the ice and funny to watch because they are usually the very definition of graceful!
It has been on the news over here that the UK is in the deep freeze and that there is some concern that the gulf stream may be weakening. Is this Crazy talk or is there something to it?

mick · December 15, 2010 at 1:15 am

It sounds like a great place for birds! I really like the swans on the ice.

holdingmoments · December 15, 2010 at 1:48 am

What a great experience seeing the Bittern so close like that. I've only ever seen two, brief sightings before. Always a great bird to see.

Gemma Wiseman · December 15, 2010 at 4:00 am

A very interesting post! Loved this story! The mute swans and their reflection look great on the frozen lake! And I live near a village community on the Morningtonton Peninsula called Bittern!

Larry · December 15, 2010 at 6:49 am

Nice reflection shot of the Mute Swans Adam, but the story of the Bitterns still amazes me. I would have shot at least 200 images of those gorgeous Bitterns!

Arija · December 15, 2010 at 9:20 am

Adorable ice dancing swans. A great capture.

Adam Tilt · December 15, 2010 at 10:18 am

Wow that's a lot of comments. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to let me know what you think. It's much appreciated and a great thing to wake up to in the morning.

Larry I'd have been the same but it was too dark for my camera to get any decent results. I'm upgrading to an SLR soon as the missed opportunities due to lighting are getting too hard to bare.

The Gulf Stream really is a problem for the UK at the moment which is causing all our freezing weather. It usually comes right across us bringing warm damp air and mild winters. At the moment it is much further south across Europe meaning that we are getting cold air from the Arctic. This is the second year in a row that these conditions have existed and might represent a real change in our climate.

I'm glad that you all like the Swan picture as well. A flock of about six flew in and slid across the ice as they landed. A couple were well trained and went down onto their bellies as soon as they touched down to avoid any falls.

Unknown · December 15, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Nice shot of the swans on the ice! Looks like they put on some kind of show

jeanlivingsimple · December 18, 2010 at 3:47 pm

I also enjoyed your birding adventure. Love the lake and the skating Swans!
The weather seems to be changing almost everywhere.

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