Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Not the Least Bit Least

LEAST BITTERN- not a name I would've chosen for this, not the least bit least, bird. Sure, it's the smallest member of the heron family but how 'bout the Diminutive Bittern, not the Least Bittern?!
Oh, well, since I am (thankfully) not in charge of taxonomy: The least bittern that has nested about 40 feet off the road on Niagara Pond certainly has garnered the attention and admiration of birders, nature lovers, photographers and many curious passers-by in the area. It even made the Erie Times News, so it's ranking right up there with the bald eagles. Some have even commented, dare I say, that it is even better than the eagles. I'm sure much of that has due to the proximity and visibility of the nest which provides unheard of opportunities to see the mating and nesting behaviors of these notoriously shy birds. Cornell describes the Least Bittern as "A tiny heron, furtive and surpassingly well camouflaged, the Least Bittern is one of the most difficult North American marsh birds to spot. " Yet, we've been able to watch the bittern couple for nearly 3 weeks now, as they take turns tending to their 5-6 eggs. This is truly a gift to behold. The attentive parents roll the eggs gingerly around the nest and take turns gently incubating the precious pale orbs that house their progeny.
Most sources I have referenced describe the eggs as a very pale blue or green, the eggs in this nest appear to be very pale green. Despite their gentle appearance we have witnessed these protective parents defend their nest vigorously. In the photo above, the male bittern is bothered by a noisy red-winged blackbird gathering material for her own nest which is less than 10 feet from the bitterns' nest.As you can see in this last shot, the cattails are really starting to fill in. I haven't been able to get to the nest for several days and I suspect the nest is almost totally hidden now. The eggs are probably going to hatch very soon if they haven't already. Incubation is 17-21 days and that definitely puts us in the ball park.
I hope to get down to the nest tomorrow and check it out. If I can see anything I'll let you know!


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