Aqualate Mere National Nature Reserve is managed by Natural England. It is a large lowland reserve situated in the grounds of Aqualate Hall. Centred on Aqualate Hall estate is the largest natural lake in the West Midlands. The reserve includes reedbeds, woodland and low-lying wet grassland.
For a couple of decades I have had strong affiliations to Aqualate Mere. Besides my interests in wildlife and wildlife photography I have been a member of various fishing clubs that have had the fishing rites on the Mere. On many occasions over many years my friends and my brother would ring and tell me they had seen the Bittern when they were fishing. I never spotted it once to my frustration. When I retired a couple of years ago I had the time and spent a lot of it bird and other wildlife watching and developing my wildlife photography skills. In January 2009 I actually saw my first Bittern at Aqualate and the butt of everyones jokes stopped. The pictures I took were rubbish but I hope you like the pictures of my recent encounter with this very secretive bird.
There is one hide on the estate situated on the eastern shore, it is raised probably four or five feet above the water level. This picture shows you the view from it and you can see the Mere is still frozen over. As you look out there is a reed bed to the left and one to the right and these follow the shore of the Mere for most of its perimeter. The only real break in the reed bed being on the south shore.
Regular scanning all around the Mere with my Binoculars for the Bittern came back with negative results. I took a few pictures as they presented themselves because there were a few birds on the ice besides the small birds coming to the feeder. The moorhen above came quite close and then decided to walk across the ice below.
I do like this picture. I think the composition is strong with a clean background and it clearly shows the Moorhen is walking.
The female Mallard was next to have her photograph taken but as I am taking her picture I detected some movement in the reed stems to my left. Their was no wind so what was causing them to move as much as they did. Out with the binoculars scanning into the reedbeds but nothing.
Another Mallard and again the reedbeds started to move. Out with the bins but this time I could see movement.
It was a Bittern skulking about in the depths of the reedbed where there was unfrozen water. It moved a little closer to the edge and I got the picture above. A few minutes later I could see a second. They are so well camouflaged when they are amongst the reeds that to see them I think sometimes you have to rely on their movement.
A few pictures of small birds including the Dunnock with warts around his beak, eyes and legs. Not sure what this is. It may be viral papillomas or even a form of avian pox. I am going to research this and will include this picture with detail in the Wildlife Health section of my site.
Just after I had taken the Dunnock picture one of the Bitterns flew out of the reedbeds and went left out of site. One bird missed one left.
A few Widgeon fly across, affectionately know as whistling Widgeon and landed out of site to my left.
The second Bittern raised itself out of the reedbeds and flew over to the right. I managed a few pictures. Shortly later it came out again walking on the ice for about 15 seconds before flying off for the last time. The picture above and the two below are the best pictures of this sequence happening.
I was using my 500f4 lens which was little too close especially the last picture of the Bittern where I have cropped his wings in camera.
Shortly after the Bittern had departed the other birds near the hide became a bit jittery. I looked in the sky above for a Sparrowhawk because I had seen one earlier and then all the birds flew away including the Mallards. A Mink walked out on the ice, took one look at me and went back in again. Fortunately I did manage to get a nice shot.
Just as I was thinking about packing up, the final photographs of the day were of this Mute Swan coming into land. Such beautiful birds, sometimes graceful as they land, other times not so. This Mute Swan did land with the help of his huge feet and skated across the ice.
This day must have been one of my most successful days out for me in search of our wildlife. Everything about it was perfect with a few surprises as well. I hope you enjoy the pictures as much as I have enjoyed taking them. Wildlife Photography at its finest.