The first bittern has arrived back at WWT London Wetland Centre this week, flying across the site before it settled among the reeds. Being one of the UK’s rarest breeding birds, the centre is one of the few locations in London lucky enough to have bitterns visiting annually. However, as they are masters of camouflage and they move silently through the reeds, it can be tricky to spot these elusive birds.
Bitterns are resident here in the UK with around 80 males holding territory in the breeding season, but in winter the UK’s population is supplemented with birds coming over from the continent. These birds come to the UK due to its warmer climate and suitable wetland habitat. Over the years, London Wetland Centre has become a great place to spot bitterns, though this year the first bittern seems to have arrived later than usual, which is most likely attributable to the warm weather conditions on the continent and throughout the UK.
Keen birdwatcher and London Wetland Centre volunteer, Kathy Peacock, was the first to spot the bittern at the centre this year. “I have been looking for Bitterns here since mid October as this is the time they usually start to arrive,” she said, “They appeared to be late this year and I was getting concerned that for some reason they were not going to turn up. When I saw it fly in yesterday I was so happy that Bitterns were returning to spend the winter here at the London Wetlands and to be able to share this experience with our customers. It was like welcoming home an old friend - magic.”
Reserve Warden, Jake Klavins, adds “Birds from the continent make up the majority of our wintering population here at London Wetland Centre, thus showing the site’s importance both locally and on an international scale for wetland birds. The reed bed we have here is carefully managed to provide the perfect habitat for bitterns. It offers them excellent cover and the perfect place to hunt for fish and frogs.”
Once a bittern has settled in and found its winter feeding spot, it tends to remain in its territory throughout the winter, so it’s an excellent opportunity to visit the centre if you want to get a glimpse of one of these birds. Other spectacular winter birds that are benefiting from the pristine habitats here are London Wetland Centre and to look out for this winter include Pintail, Water rail and Jack snipe.
Visitors can learn how to identify different birds and learn more about them on one of our various bird walks. A winter bird watching walk is being held on Saturday 7 January. For more information on this or any of our other walks visit wwt.org.uk/London or call 020 8409 4400.