The news went out via twitter and emails yesterday afternoon that a Least Bittern (Ixobrychus exilis) was up a tree in Prospect Park. Unusual: the birds’ habitat is typically the reedy edge of water bodies, and it is generally very elusive. It’s our smallest heron, smaller even than the Green Heron. I’ve only seen one once before, and that briefly, on South Padre Island, Texas: the bird flew up out of the reeds and just as quickly back down into the reeds. In flight, though, the buffy wings are quite distinctive. That was not a particularly satisfying view, so I trudged to the park through thick and thin of the subway’s wretched weekend schedule in hopes of a better one. Nobody was anywhere near the stated location, which admittedly was initially rather broadly defined. Uh-oh, I thought, having heard that a crowd had gathered. Best sign of a great bird is a crowd. Absent a mob, I thought the bird must have flown.I saw a Worm-eating Warbler, which was something of a consolation prize; also Common Yellowthroat, Black and White, Black-throated Blue, and an insistent House Wren telling me who was who. Luckily I ran into another birder who offered to show me the location, off the main path. I was the only person there for the longest time.I had gotten on the train under a lowering sky. I got off the train in beautiful sunlight. I looked at the bird under dark, glowering skies, with a drop or two or rain. Then it cleared again. The sun came out.From underneath, this time was also not the most satisfying of views. Interestingly, the bird had its nictating membrane closed in most shots.
More commonly seen, but still pretty rare, is the American Bittern. Here’s a Prospect Park visit from a couple of years ago.