Why Did the Bittern Cross the Road?
To look for its lost mate?
To find an eel?
We will never know, but it is dead now. Recently, a kind driver picked up an injured bittern from near Quinlan's Bridge. For his troubles, he was seriously pecked on the face. The bittern had plenty of fight.
He, or she, was often seen around this area and had acquired the nickname of Quinney by some folks. Quinney was driven down to Westport where the vet found he had a broken wing and leg and probably internal injuries, and was unable to be saved. He was put down, euthanased.
The tragedy is twofold. Quinney was much loved as an occasionally visible, but intensely private local who some of us will miss as an individual. But globally, he is very rare. In New Zealand, it is estimated that there are about 1000 of these Australasian Bitterns, or Matuku, left, with another 1000 in Australia and New Caledonia.
Added to that, another dead bittern was found within the last three months in the same area, on the side of the road. This was possibly the mate. A young bittern was noted on a nearby farm recently; maybe that was one of these, or a progeny of the dead pair? Whatever the relationship circumstances of the two and possibly three birds in this area, there are certainly two less now.
There are other bitterns in our area. They are quite large and chunky, compared with a weka, for example. But they are easily startled and stand tall and beautifully camouflaged in the rushes and paddocks and often in humps and hollows. They are cumbersome at taking flight, flying low and slow. This might account for both of these deaths as they took flight from the paddock intending to go to the estuary, but without enough elevation to cross the road above car or truck height.
May be we can get a sign erected in this area to warn drivers of the possibility of encountering low-flying bitterns? It would be a shame if in a few years time, you were the one that could say 'I saw one of those once but they haven't been seen since.' Even worse if you happened to be the inadvertent driver who hit the last one ever seen in these parts.
Beware the low flying bittern.
Bitterns are extremely cryptic and rarely seen. This is due to their secretive behaviour, inconspicuous plumage and the inaccessibility of their habitat. Their presence is most commonly discerned through hearing the distinctive ‘booming’ call of the males during the breeding season. Bittern occasionally show themselves in the open along wetland edges, dykes, drains, flooded paddocks or roadsides, often adopting their infamous ‘freeze’ stance, with the bill pointing skyward, even when caught out in the open.