Saturday 16 June 2012

Little Bittern at Stockers Lake was just a Mistle Thrush after all!

I returned to Herts today for another crack at the Mistle Thrush, as I had only seen it briefly in flight during the week and had unaccountably failed to rule out female Little Bittern. A number of people had suggested I may have been stringing it, so I endured a nervous couple of days of negative news, followed this morning by it being refound in almost exactly the same spot. Hah, I knew it was still there!

In company of Bradders, Hawky, and Muffin - a Mistle Thrush dipper earlier in the week - we glided around the M25 and arrived just after it had disappeared deep into some reeds, no doubt searching for some tasty worms. We didn't have too long to wait thankfully, as it was soon picked up in a willow close to the water. Although the whole bird was difficult to see, being mostly obscured by branches, glimpses of a black cap, stripy breast and large yellow bill pointed all too clearly to Mistle Thrush. Phew!

Frustrating views were had by all over the next half an hour as it skulked right at the bottom of the willow, occasionally darting forward to pull a wiggling worm out of the water. And then for no apparent reason it hopped up higher into the willow before flying out and down into some more favourable thrush habitat of reeds and sedge. We charted it's progress with snatches of movement, a bill here, an eye here, and then finally the moment we had all been waiting for! It crept out of the reeds into full view and showed brilliantly, allowing those present to see all the critical features and eliminate once and for all any thoughts of it merely being a Little Bittern.

The Mistle Thrush poses with a particularly rotund worm
They're an oft confused species it has to be said, and getting good views is essential before you tick any vagrant Mistle Thrush - many is the time I have been fooled by Little Bitterns on the Golf Course in Wanstead, or hopping around the football pitches, especially in mid-summer when they feed in family groups. I've very nearly put the news out on the pager several times, before realising that it was just another party of Little Bitterns and not the rare Thrushes I had initially thought them to be. Still, with experience you gradually get to work out what is what, and I see so many Little Bitterns every year on the patch that I'd always back myself to spot an out-of-context Mistle Thrush, especially if in its favoured habitat of reeds.


  1. I really enjoyed this post. Common species such as Little Bitterns are often ignored but are actually very beautiful when you look at them properly. I particularly like the way they chase the Squacco Herons from autumn berry bushes despite the abundance of food.

  2. great mistler shots! Hate to be a doubter but did you get the call? Its the real clincher I reckon!