Most of the summer slipped by and I didn’t get out to the marsh … but at least I saw a Bittern.
Over the past two weeks I’ve made several excursions, hoping to see a few of the sandpipers that like to run along from lily pad to lily pad. Or a beaver, plying the placid waters while chewing on fresh greens. Or dragonflies, or … well, the marsh often has surprises.
One of my first discoveries was the flowers of the Wapato, which I hadn’t noticed before.
The more obvious white flowers, scattered across the marsh’s surface, are lily pad flowers. In late August, the flowers and lily pads are home to countless tiny insects, which attract the bigger insects that eat them, which attract birds and fish fingerlings and frogs and turtles.
As I’d hoped, telltale motion along the lily pads alerted me to Spotted Sandpipers darting about and gobbling insects.
In addition to the adults, several juveniles – still without their spots – were out hunting on their own. (If the bird in the photo below is not a juvenile Spotted Sandpiper, I’m grateful to anyone who can let me know the correct ID; just send me a note through the Contact link.)
Then an odd motionless shape protruding from the lily pads caught my eye. Zooming in, I saw it was a juvenile Least Bittern.
The smallest of the heron family, the Least Bittern is zealously secretive and usually stays hidden in the reeds. I’m not positive I’ve ever seen an adult, but the juveniles seem to be less cautious and I see one every year or two.
I watched quietly for an hour while dear Bittern fed from floating platforms. A step here, a step there, an occasional jab, and down the gullet went a dragonfly or a minnow.
In one moment the Least Bittern appears stout and stocky. The next moment, it is clear that most of its body is just a storage compartment for the feathered slinky that is its neck.
It was encouraging to learn that somewhere nearby, a pair of Bitterns had nested and fledged a young one this summer.
Could there have been a better way to spend a Sunday morning than watching a Least Bittern explore the marsh?
Photo at top of page: Poised Pose (click here for full-size view)