Rickubis Bird Page #10:  Bitterns!
This page was born 07/08/2015.  Rickubis designed it.  (such as it is.) Last update:  2/10/2016
Images and contents on this page copyright 2002-2016 Richard M. Dashnau 

Here are my other Brazos Bend and/or critter pages:
 ----------------------------------------------------------------                  OR,  FOR OTHER ANIMALS:
Alligators at Brazos Bend State Park Introduction            Critters at Brazos Bend State Park Page 1
Snakes-nonvenomous 1-------------------------------------------Critters at Brazos Bend State Park Page 3
Snakes-nonvenomous 2-------------------------------------------------Insects, non-toxic
Snakes-nonvenomous 3------------------------------------------------Spiders
Birds-Waders Hawks & Eagles-Anhingas & Comorants - -------Lizards!--Turtles!
 Grebes -Herons  Misc. Birds  Pelicans
Vultures    Owls & Falcons

Welcome to Brazos Bend State Park. That's me on the trail. One of the most popular reasons for people to visit BBSP is to see the birds. Although *I* started going to the park mainly for the alligators, one cannot be there for long without learning to enjoy the birds. Over the years, I've captured a few pictures and video clips of them, and here they are. 

February 1,8,15, 2015--Three weekends of Bitternness.... Between the good rains we had from last year, and some from this year, water levels in the park have been the highest in years. This has evidently been good for the American Bitterns, and they have been active! This is what I was able to see over the last few weeks:
February 1st, I watched a Bittern hunting. I noticed it because of the position of its neck and head. The Bittern's neck was fully extended, and it was focused on something in the plants. (PIC 01) Then, it slowly moved forward, keeping its head still, but "taking up the slack" of its neck. And when it launched its head forward, it was rewarded with a crawfish. The two pictures show the the neck fully-extended, and then the crawfish in its beak.
(PIC 02) This video clip shows the actual capture and then the removal of one of the crawfish's claws.
The Bittern continued hunting, when another Bittern walked out of the rice, within view of the first Bittern. This newcomer started walking quickly towards the first Bittern. I began filming at high-speed, because I expected to see conflict, and I wanted to define how that unfolded. Instead, the Bitterns began a display behavior that I had never seen before. Both of them "bowed" bending forward, and then they opened their wings and exposed white patches on their backs.  At that point, they began walking slowly-in a "stalking" manner, showing their backs to each other. After a few minutes of this circling, they moved away from each other. They made no sound. This interaction amazed me, and I tried to catch everything I could with my camera--but I didn't want to risk changing any settings or risk looking away. The Bitterns were only about 10 yards away and I didn't want them to notice me. Still, I thought the footage and images I caught were amazing. Photos and framegrabs from the video are 
PIC 03, PIC 04, PIC 05.    The Bittern catching the crawfish video is here (wmv) .      The Bittern conflict video is here (wmv) .

                           PIC  01                                                                            PIC  02                                                                    PIC  03                                                                  PIC  04

                           PIC  05
On February 8th, I was at the same part of the 40 Acre Lake trail. There, I watched a Bittern as it hunted. After a while, it went to a small "nook" in the wild rice, faced the rice, and began swaying. I thought this this might meanthat it would begin "booming", and it appeared to start to call, but I couldn't be sure because of the wind blowing.  Just a few minutes later, another Bittern flew out of the rice, and landed a few yards from where the first Bitternwas standing.  It appeared to start into the rice, and I began filming. And, I was treated to ANOTHER territorial display. This confrontation lasted for about 5 minutes, and finally ended with the first Bittern having moved off, and the "newcomer" standing in the same spot where the first Bittern had been standing, and almost in the same position! After a few minutes, the "newcomer" turned, and began hunting. After about 10 minutes, it caught a crawfish. When it began to eat it, the "first" Bittern came rushing back, from some yards away, in a major aggressive display. After more confrontation, the Bitterns seem to arrive at a sort of truce, and they passed each other, though keeping their distance, and continued
hunting.  I filmed most of this.
I extracted some frames from these clips video, and images below are some of those frame-grabs.  Video clips of from this can be seen by following the links:  
First confrontation: 1 (wmv) ; Second Confrontation 2 (wmv)  ; Epilogue (the loser gets a crawfish)  3 (wmv)  .
I have never seen any behavior like this between Bitterns. I have found a few references to it.  In my copy of The Herons Handbook by John Hancock and James Kushlan there is reference (on page 271) to a description of behavior in 1911. This description can be found online (look for "
Concerning the Nuptial Plumes Worn by Certain Bitterns and the Manner in Which They Are Displayed" by William Brewster). I also found some interesting descriptions here:

                                             PIC  06                                                                                                  PIC  07                                                                                               PIC  08 
                                             PIC  09                                                                                                  PIC  10                                                                                               PIC  11
                                             PIC  12                                                                                                  PIC  13                                                                                                      

On February 15th, I was at the 40 Acre Lake parking lot. I was going to look for the Great Horned Owl nest, when I could hear Bitterns calling out somewhere over the lake. So, I walked down to 40 Acre lake. I could hear the distinct call of Bitterns, but they were hiding in the rice.  As I was moving east, towards the Observation Tower, I heard the "click, click, click" that signals the start of a Bittern call. I looked left, and saw a Bittern calling! And I stayed and waited to see if it would happen again. And it did call again--and finally, after years of watching, I was able to see and hear a Bittern calling quite close, and shot some video.  Bitterns have a very distinctive call. I've mentioned this on one of my other pages here. The three images below are framegrabs of one of the calls.  The video clip showing 2 different calls is here:   Bittern Calling (wmv) .

                                             PIC  14                                                                                                  PIC  15                                                                                               PIC  16

05/26/2012--  There was an Alligator with babies in Pilant Lake along the North length of 40 Acre Lake trail at BBSP. I was near this group of alligators when I saw a small, brownish bird come out of the rice. I watched it for a while, and I wondered briefly what it was. It was about the size and shape of a Green Heron...but it was the wrong color. It was colored similarly to an American Bittern, but it was too small. Then, I realized that it was a Least Bittern. This was a surprise, because Least Bitterns are not commonly seen at the park. I started shooting pictures quickly, because the area was getting busy with people interested in the baby Alligators and I thought the Bittern would go hide. But, it didn't. So I got to watch the Least Bittern for a while as it hunted. The images below are from photos. The brownish colors (American Bitterns are more green) and the black back with white stripe are good keys to identifying this bird. 

                                                                                                                                            BEFORE CATCHING FISH

The picture bottom right is a frame grab from the video that I've put together from clips I filmed of the Least Bittern as it hunted. I filmed at 30 and 120 fps. To see the video, click  here.  

01/25/2009--  I was walking along 40 Acre Lake trail at BBSP when I spotted an American Bittern foraging amongst the plants. I watched it for a while. I hadn't seen a Bittern at the park for some time. Then, I shot a few pictures. Today's RICKUBISCAM is from one of them. I also shot some video of the Bittern stalking through the grass and grabbing food. I was able to get a good sequence of one of the beak thrusts, and subsequent swallowing. See (GULP!) below. To see the video, click  here (wmv 5.0 mb).   

                          GULP!                                               RICKUBISCAM 01/25/09

March 30, 2003  Then there was this American Bittern that I was watching out at the Creekfield trail. I watched as it hunted for a while and then, to my surprise, it waded to shore, about 12 feet from me (HERE HE COMES, below). Then, he (she?, I noticed that there were no dark markings around the throat, which I believe means it was a juvenile bird), crossed the trail. (See BEEP-BEEP!, and MADE IT, below.)  Just as he was in the middle of the trail, some park visitors came into view behind me. I believe that he stopped to try his "vanishing trick" (See, CAN YOU SEE ME NOW?, below) but he might have just been trying to get a better look at the approaching people.  He finally flew off when the visitors got closer.

                HERE HE COMES                                              BEEP-BEEP!                                                MADE IT!                                        CAN YOU SEE ME NOW?

  March 02, 2003
                           TICK                                           GLOOP1                                           GLOOP2
I was talking to some park visitors when we here this really odd sound.  Everyone got quiet, and someone asked "What the heck was that?" I heard it again, and I guessed that it was an American Bittern, but I'd never heard one before. However, Donna (she knows who she is) had described it to me, and she'd hit it right on the money. After a little search, I found it. The pictures above and below (starting with TICK, and through  GLOOP3) show frames from a movie clip that I was able to capture with the Olympus C-700.  The captions are how I would describe the sounds I heard him making. Gloop 1-3 are three stages of a single deep sound.   Of course, I'd only intended a quick trip, so didn't bring my video camera.  Click the following links for two flv video clips of the Bittern calling clip1(656 kb)  clip2(654 kb). He was about 30 yards away, and blends in with the grasses, so the resolution isn't that good. I've also included an .mpg (2,619 kb) file of the second clip that's a little clearer (but much larger!). One never knows what one will see at this park. The last image (AMERICAN BITTERN) is a little better photo I was able to get as he was walking. 

UPDATE, 01/04/2014: In an effort to update the pages to be better visible with today's (2014) internet speeds; I have been expanding the sizes of the pages. Along with this, I will try to post better (upgraded) video clips whenever possible.
Unfortunately I will not have the original video files for some of these. For others, I will only have the digital video that I shot at the time. If I can, I will "remaster" these video clips to a larger size. Here are the two video clips referred to above,
remastered to a somewhat larger size (480 x 360).   clip 1 (wmv 3.1mb)  clip 1 (mp4 3.9mb)   ; clip 2 (wmv 3.0mb)  clip 2 (mp4 3.8mb)

                                GLOOP 3                                 AMERICAN BITTERN

January 10, 2002

             AMERICAN BITTERN 1---                                    --- AMERICAN BITTERN 2---                       ----- AMERICAN BITTERN 3-     ---- 

                         AMERICAN BITTERN 4 ---                  -AMERICAN BITTERN 5 

The images above (bittern) show an American Bittern, which is usually a shy bird, and rarely seen. I think part of the reason for this is its amazing camouflage. I was taking pictures of this one, and trying to show it to some park visitors and they had a hard time seeing it. Click here(mpg 1,681 kb)  to see a short movie of this bird, and you'll see what I mean.

If you'd like to know more about the park follow these links:

Brazos Bend State Park   The main page.

Brazos Bend State Park Volunteer's Page  The volunteer's main page.

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