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Bitterns are booming in Titchwell

PUBLISHED: 14:40 11 June 2011 | UPDATED: 10:18 13 June 2011

Titchwell has two breeding pairs of the rare bittern this year. Picture: Andy Thompson

Titchwell has two breeding pairs of the rare bittern this year. Picture: Andy Thompson

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Double the number of nests for rare bird

One of the rarest birds in the country appears to making itself very much at home on the North West Norfolk coast.

The bittern has been booming in more ways than one at Titchwell, where the number of breeding pairs has doubled this year - from one to two.

Two nests may not seem much to get excited about, one in the RSPB reserve and one close-by, but it is one of the UK’s rarest birds and any breeding pairs are deemed a success.

“It is an absolute joy to have two bittern nests in the area this year, and a privilege to have one on the reserve. Even though East Anglia is one of the best places to see a bittern, there is still a buzz of excitement at each sighting - they really are a stop-and-stare species,” said site manager Robert Coleman.

A member of the heron family, and adopting a similar recognisable flying position with legs swept-back, the resident bittern was once considered a delicacy and was widely hunted in this country. In Norfolk it was even known as a butterbump because of the amount of fat it carried.

The distinctive booming call of the males, similar to someone blowing through an empty bottle, was once a common sound.

But numbers reached an all-time low of just 11 in the country in 1997 and conservation of the bittern was moved up the agenda.

Numbers have since increased to 87 booming males, but they still remain one of the most threatened birds in the country.

“There is no greater reward for the reserve team’s hard work than to see the reedbeds being appreciated by these amazing rare birds. Bitterns are usually shy and extremely hard to spot, but at the moment the females are making frequent feeding flights so now is definitely the time to come and see them,” said Mr Coleman.

To help tackle the problem of declining numbers, the Titchwell reserve saw improvements to its freshwater reedbeds last year which involved clearing areas of reeds to allow more water movement. The bitterns’ main source of food, rudd, is found in such areas and it is soon to be extended eastwards to create even more suitable habitat.

Last year only 47 sites in the UK hosted booming bitterns and of these only 17 went on to nest successfully with 61pc of those pairs in East Anglia.

So far this year the RSPB has reported bitterns at: - Minsmere, Suffolk; Strumpshaw, Norfolk; Ouse Fen, Cambridgeshire (one confirmed nest); Fen Drayton, Cambridgeshire, (two booming males identified, no confirmed nests as yet); Nene Washes, Cambridgeshire and Lakenheath Fen, Norfolk, (two nests confirmed, three more anticipated).

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