Once bittern, twice shy at the RSPB’s Titchwell Marsh reserve

Look carefully and you'll see two of our rarest birds, almost perfectly camouflaged amid the reeds at Titchwell, on the Norfolk coast.

Seeing an adult bittern is unusual enough, let alone getting a picture of it. But capturing two of their young on camera is almost unheard of.

Bird watcher John Bottomley managed the rare feat as he trained his lens on the reedbeds at Titchwell Marsh, near Hunstanton.

This spring two pairs of bitterns have successfully bred on and around the RSPB reserve, for the first time ever.

One pair has a brood of four chicks, meaning up to five bitterns have been seen together.

Visitors have been treated to fleeting sightings of the birds, as the females fly to and fro with food for their young.

Rudd from the shallow pools on the reserve form their main food source, although fishing is left to the female bird with her partner adopting a hands-off approach to chick-care.

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'The female comes in every hour or so to feed them,' said reserve visitor officer Dave Hawkins.

'Yesterday she gave them a swimming lesson. She landed on one side of the pool and called them over to her, first of all one and then two birds swam across the pool to her.

'It was quite a sight, young bitterns swimming amongst the bemused mallards and coots.'

Mr Hawkins said a straw poll of more than 100 visiting birders by reserve staff revealed not one had ever seen a young bittern.

'I've never seen a young bittern in all my birding life,' said Mr Hawkins. 'Then we end up seeing four, it's just amazing.'

Once so common it was a valued food source, the bittern is now one of our rarest birds.

Extinct as a breeding bird by 1900, a tiny population has since returned with East Anglia's wetland reedbeds its stronghold.

So secretive it is rarely seen, bitterns are almost impossible to count. Conservationists guage their numbers by the number of males heard booming - demonstrating their distinctive mating call.

Numbers have increased from just 11 in 1997, to upwards of 80 this spring.

This year birds were heard booming at Titchwell, Minsmere, Strumpshaw, Ouse Fen, Fen Drayton, the Nene Washes and Lakenheath Fen.

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