Bitterns get ready for spring

BITTERNS are booming on the Suffolk coast. The elusive birds have found their voices, which RSPB officers say signals the start of spring.

BITTERNS are booming on the Suffolk coast.

The elusive birds have found their voices, which RSPB officers say signals the start of spring.

The first bittern was heard grunting - a precursor to their famous deep boom - at the end of February and now there are at least three male bitterns active at the RSPB Minsmere nature reserve.

RSPB spokesman Ian Barthorpe said, “As their throat muscles strengthen, these early grunts will soon turn to a full-throated boom, which can be heard from up to one mile away.

“Many visitors have been lucky enough recently to see bitterns feeding at the edge of reedbed pools or flying low above the reeds. Early mornings are best, but bitterns can be heard throughout the day.

“The bitterns have been quite late starting to boom this year.

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“This may be due to high water levels following recent flooding, but may also reflect the colder winter. They should now boom until late May.”

Minsmere remains the UK stronghold for the bittern.

There were just 75 booming males in the UK last spring - a significant increase on previous years - with 11 of those at Minsmere. Back in 1997 there were just 11 males in the whole country.

Other early spring birds visitors can currently see at Minsmere include avocets, which have returned in good numbers already, Mediterranean gulls and drumming great spotted woodpeckers.

The first summer visitors will arrive in the next few weeks, led by species such as chiffchaffs, wheatears and sand martins.

What's your favourite Suffolk bird? Write to the letters page, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or email eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

FASTFACTS

Experts hatched a strategy to increase bittern numbers to 50 booming males on 22 sites by 2010, by replacing large areas of reedbed.

The target was exceeded by 2004, when 55 boomers were recorded - but the tally then dropped again, with monsoon rains in 2007 destroying nests and drowning chicks.

The reclusive creature has buff and mottled plumage above long greenish legs and enormous feet - but you are most likely to see it in flight.

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