When birders way out on the east  end of Long Island reported breeding Least Bitterns at Arshamomaque Preserve in the town of Southold, my interest was momentarily piqued but I figured that I wouldn’t have time to go looking for them what with work and family obligations. But after my epic 22-hour workday last Wednesday I had a couple of days of time off as compensation for making myself a gibbering wreck so I used yesterday, Monday, 07 July, as a day of birding. I made Arshamomaque Preserve my first stop.

I arrived at just before 7 AM and battled the evil biting flies and mosquitoes as I made my way out to the observation tower that overlooks the marsh-surrounded-pond where the Least Bitterns have been seen. I expected a bit of a wait, or perhaps an outright dip, as Least Bitterns are notoriously skulky and I had neither seen nor heard a Least Bittern in New York in three years. (The last one were breeders also, at Massapequa Preserve.)

Imagine my joy, however, as on my walk to the tower a Virginia Rail sauntered past almost within touching distance. I was pretty slow on the draw, unfortunately, but I did manage this horrific shot of it.

Virginia Rail

Sure, a birder had reported a cooperative Virginia Rail the day before but I didn’t expect lightening to strike twice!

The rail was nice but I was after a different skulking marsh bird and so I climbed into the tower and waited. And waited. And waited. I amused myself by watching the Osprey nest across the pond, by trying to guess which of the two Least Terns fishing the pond would catch a fish first, and by keeping my eyes and ears wide open for sight or sound of Least Bittern. Just as I was lowering my binoculars from watching one of the adult Osprey chase off a Double-crested Cormorant (Why?) I saw a Least Bittern for about two seconds as it finished a flight from my right to land in the reeds in front of me, completely invisible. It called once, as if to mock me. Then all was silence again.

Great, I had seen my Least Bittern almost exactly one hour from when my vigil began but had missed the picture and really, the view had been so brief that I never even got my binoculars up. I decided to wait and see if I would get another look. Fifteen minutes later, as you can probably guess from the picture at the top of this post, a second Least Bittern flew from across the pond, giving a nice long look as it made its way to my right, where the first bittern had flown from, landed in the reeds, and became invisible. But this time I got a couple of flight shots!

Least Bittern in flight

Least Bittern in flight!

With that, I packed up my gear and headed out of Arshamomaque Preserve, happy with a successful sighting. Least Bittern! Whoo-hoo!

Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy and Desmond Shearwater. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.