Rare birds boom into life at Doncaster nature reserve

A bittern
A bittern

One of the most threatened birds in the UK has bred successfully for the first time at a Doncaster nature reserve.

Staff at Potteric Carr are celebrating for after many years of work, patience and careful observation, bitterns have successfully bred on the site for the very first time.

The birds are having a rocky road to recovery following their UK-wide extinction around 1885 – a result of habitat loss and persecution at the time.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserves officer Jim Horsfall said: “We are thrilled!

“Over the last three years male bitterns at Potteric Carr during spring have been making their characteristic booming sound, a call they use to attract mates.

“This of course gave us hope that one day we may see some young bitterns.

“Earlier this year there was much booming, followed by many sightings of adult birds, including what appeared to be some courtship flights, where a pair of birds fly together. Over time birders here then observed feeding flights through late July and early August yet it was still difficult to confirm breeding.

“However, earlier this month, a young bittern was seen for the first time.”

After bitterns returned to Norfolk in 1900 they have continued to struggle as the reed bed habitat they so heavily depend on continues to diminish.

Bitterns have been regular visitors to the reed beds at Potteric Carr since the 1990s. To begin with sightings were of overwintering birds, with up to six birds being seen in a day – a difficult task in itself for the wading bird is secretive and well camouflaged.

Mr Horsfall added: “This is a great success for Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, and evidence that habitat restoration and creation work can have a big impact on rare species.

“The Trust has also been working to improve the fish populations, which in turn provide food for bitterns. The UK bittern population was down to fewer than 20 breeding pairs in the 1990s, and now the numbers have increased significantly, largely due to better management of existing wetlands and creation of new wetlands.

“Seeing bitterns can be difficult due to their camouflaged plumage which blends perfectly with the reed beds. But patience and a pair of binoculars can pay off. Birds are also seen flying from one reed bed to another, giving good views if you time your visit right.”

The birds are seen all year round at Potteric, with the largest numbers seen in winter when the population is swelled by wintering birds from elsewhere in the UK and Europe.

The news comes soon after YWT announced marsh harriers had bred for the first time earlier this year.