Bittern Hunt

Least Bitterns are a type of heron that lives in wetlands around the south-east US, South America and the Carribbean. They are known for their ability to remain totally motionless for a long period of time, making them very difficult to spot. I have been looking for a Least Bittern for about six months. For that time, I had been checking eBird every couple of days to see if there had been any spotted near me. I checked parks that they apparently frequent as well as every secluded sedge-pond and swamp I could find, but no luck. I hiked 8 miles through Boyd Hill in south Pinellas for the sole purpose of finding one but I was not successful. I double checked every Green Heron I saw (which were many) but they were all typical.

One day, I met some strange old guy at a local park. He was chain-smoking 305 menthols when he pulled me aside and told me where I could find some Purple Gallinules nearby. I assume he could tell I was bird watcher from my oversized camera and cool hat. We talked for about 30 minutes and I asked him where I could find a Least Bittern. To my surprise, he told me he sees them almost daily. They were not reported very often on eBird so I assumed they were somewhat rare.

He told me to check the parking lot of a Culver's (bad fast food) across the river, which was the last place I would've expected. I went and checked it out around 5pm, not expecting much, but to my surprise there were actually quite a few birds there. I was looking at a Tricolored Heron when I realized I was about ten feet from a Least Bittern! He was right in front of me that entire time, completely still. As I was taking pictures of him, a lifted pickup truck playing a Da Baby song came through and scared the poor thing away. I was not able to find him again but I was still happy to have seen him.

The one I saw was probably immature because it didn't have the grey-blue or pink cap on its head that the adults have, and its stripes were quite dull. It was smaller than I would have expected, about the size of a Gallinule.

I suppose it goes to show that eBird is useful but not always the best way to find a bird. Lots of older, expirienced birders might not use it when they'd be the ones with the most knowledge of the area.

Least Bittern