In the few weeks we have been in Palmerston I have been enjoying some great birds and the cycling paths are particularly good and generally I can avoid cycling on the road. There is one very busy road to cross to get to Marlow Lagoon and at certain times of day it is near impossible and in those situations I generally avoid attempting it and cycle somewhere else. The lakes around the Golf Course are also great for birding and there is a pedestrian crossing with traffic lights, so you don’t waste birding time waiting to cross a busy road with no traffic control. I have found the ideal time to get across the busy road to Marlow Lagoon is around the middle of the day, when traffic is at its minimum. It may appear an odd time to go birding, right in the middle of the day, but when it is hot birds do need to drink and it has proven rather successful. I also have the whole area to myself, while later in the day there will be people walking and exercising their dogs.

Last Sunday I arrived by bicycle at Marlow Lagoon at about midday and it was a pleasant 32c/90f in the shade. I always dismount on arrival and put my binoculars on, have my camera handy and walk slowly around the lagoon with my bicycle beside me. I had almost completed the circuit observing the bird species that I have become familiar with there, such as the Forest Kingfishers, Nankeen Night Herons, Green Pygmy Geese, Orange-footed Scrubfowl and the large variety of Honeyeaters when there was something that caught my eye in the distance. It was next to the water and taking a drink.

Dilemma/panic…….binoculars up, camera out, bicycle to move forward…..brain goes “BLACK BITTERN!!!” Quick get a photo, have another look, move forward slowly, take more photos…..should I ring Grant now? No….move forward, the bird moves, I move…….

Black Bittern (2)

Black Bittern (3)

Black Bittern (4)

Black Bittern at the water’s edge

The Black Bittern stretches upwards as if it has seen the field guide and knows the pose it should make. I take more photographs with my little compact camera and then it walks up the slope and flies around the corner.

Black Bittern (5)

Black Bittern (6)

Black Bittern (7)

 Black Bittern stretches up

Black Bittern (11)

Field Guide-plates 163…has the Black Bittern read this?

So, then it is an opportune time to call Grant and tell him that I have found a Black Bittern and although it will be disappointing to him that he is stuck at work for a few more hours he will appreciate my good luck. He actually observed a Black Bittern south of Darwin in 1997 when he took a casual job for a few weeks that he saw as an excellent birding opportunity. He got to stand on the edge of the road birding for long hours every day with a sign that said STOP/SLOW and it enabled him to observe some great birds including the Black Bittern. So, if you ever hear of a job in a remote location that involves traffic control it really can be good for birding! It does not need to be a “job for life”, but it may well get you some “lifers”.

Once I had spoken to Grant at work I walked up over the small slope where I believed the Black Bittern had gone to and the log on the far side of the water did not appear quite natural. I looked with my binoculars and then approached slowly and took several photos.

Black Bittern (8)

Black Bittern being part of a log

The log was not all log and the Black Bittern stretched up and moved away.

Black Bittern (10)

Black Bittern (9)

 Black Bittern

I was soon back on my bicycle and up the hill and back to where we are staying. It was not long before the photos were onto the computer and emailed to Grant and he continued on at work for a few more hours. It was more than four hours later when Grant got home, actually a lot earlier than normal for some reason! He suggested we could go and look for it together, just on the off-chance that I might be able to find it for him.

No doubt you have heard the expression “dead cert” for a bird that you will certainly find somewhere if you visit. It can be risky……..birds fly! This was far from being a “dead cert”, but we would be silly to not go and look. We were soon there…..we only have one bicycle here, so we were soon in the car and at Marlow Lagoon. We walked around to where it was most likely to be and I lowered down and said “oh, there it is!”. It was under an over-hanging tree and we sat on the grass together as it moved forward and down towards the reeds.

Black Bittern (12)

The Black Bittern had been on the close land above on the left and then moved to the gap between the island and mainland to pretend to be a log. It is now on the island under the overhanging tree. It is in the above photo!

Black Bittern (13)

Black Bittern (14)

Black Bittern (15)

Black Bittern (16)

Black Bittern (17)

Black Bittern heading back down to the reeds

Who would have thought! How lucky was I? A wife that can find her husband a Black Bittern after work on a Sunday! It was two hours before sunset.

This brought my bird list for Marlow Lagoon to 61 species and then a pair of returning Dollarbirds from Asia swooped in calling and the species list was 62 for a lagoon in the city of Palmerston. I saw the Black Bittern briefly again on Monday, but I could not get any better photos. I may get another opportunity, but if I don’t I won’t mind as I was so lucky to not only find it, but also find it for my husband all those hours later.

Written by Clare M
Clare and her husband, Grant, have lived permanently in Broome, Western Australia since 1999 after living in various outback locations around Western Australia and Darwin. She has lived in the Middle East and the United States and traveled extensively in Europe. She monitors Pied Oystercatchers breeding along a 23km stretch of Broome's coastline by bicycle and on foot. She chooses not to participate in social media, but rather wander off into the bush for peace and tranquility. Thankfully she can write posts in advance and get away from technology!