Journal entry: In the peace and quiet, a bittern hides | Written by Jim Perrin
I spent an hour at Llyn Coed y Dinas, near the southern end of the Welshpool bypass, which is a lovely spot to enjoy the evening. I was bundled up in a warm Himalayan down jacket and a travel blanket on my lap, listening to the gentle waves on the pebbled shore. The lake’s surface had frozen over, and I watched Venus rise while nestled in the moon’s embrace. The lake is a nature reserve for resident birds, and I observed them paddling to their roost on a nearby island while sipping a cup of tea and patiently waiting.
Being patient and quiet is crucial for spotting wildlife. Why did I come here? Hoping to catch a glimpse or hear a bittern, although I wasn’t expecting it. Naturalists George Schaller and Peter Matthiessen embarked on a journey to the remote Dolpo in the Himalayas in search of the elusive snow leopard. However, all they found were tracks and droppings. This experience taught Matthiessen a Zen lesson and inspired him to write his renowned book in 1978. My own encounters with this magnificent cat have been limited to seeing it from afar on a mountain pass in the Tien Shan, and waking up to find its footprints surrounding my tent at Tapovan, India. Although we never officially met, the snow leopard had left its mark on me.
There are few similarities between the bittern and snow leopard, except for their status on the red list. However, there have been confirmed sightings in recent years of these animals at this location where they used to live. If you examine the reed fringe, it becomes apparent that they may still be present, even with the noise from passing traffic. This lake was once a gravel pit, made during the building of the bypass. Despite searching the reed beds, I have not spotted that distinctive dagger-like beak piercing through the sky, or the impressive camouflage of the bittern’s feathers.
I will return regardless – I have a vivid memory of discovering the bittern 70 years ago, while listening to an episode of Out With Romany with my grandfather. It was a popular countryside program on BBC Children’s Hour, and it was broadcasted from Wicken Fen. These birds are making a comeback, their deep voices echoing through the peaceful areas. Just like the red kite, which has successfully re-established itself, we should remain optimistic.