Blue Brick posted a beautiful series of bird photographs.
She described them as elusive. I recalled a chance encounter with a least bittern and was reminded just how elusive our fine, feathered friends can be.
The Least Bittern is native to large marches in the Americas. They are not uncommon in the swamps that define much of the gulf coast, yet I was seventeen before I saw my first one. Now I am nearly thirty and have yet to see another of these small wonders. I am starting to doubt that any known species is more elusive.
The story began when my nine year old neighbor came to my door claiming to have seen a flat bird. I had gained a reputation among the local children for being the closest thing to an animal expert on the block, often being called in to identify road kills and assist in impromptu dissections. (Kids in my neighborhood were weird.)
Not wanting to play “Poke the Maggot Infested Carcass With a Stick” (I was about to eat lunch.) I declined the invitation, only to be assured that the creature was still alive. Thinking it might be injured, I followed her to the back yard of one of her friends.
A folded lawn chair rested against the brick wall of the house. Perched atop this lawn chair was something that must have come from outer space.
Viewed from the side it was a tiny stork, some seven inches tall. Viewed from the front it was a straight line. None of the pictures I have found of this bird seem to properly illustrate its vanishing act.
As I circled the little bird, its eyes never left mine. Though its beak was pointed skyward. This gave it the appearance of a thin little man with a pointed hat. It would reposition itself so I was always looking at its less visible front, perhaps, a survival strategy. We all had a staring contest with it until we were forced to blink and, just like that, it was gone.
I later found the name of the bird but no picture has ever done it justice.
Descriptions of its behavior though, make me certain that it was a least bittern. Many color morphs exist, much like humans I suppose, and not all of these morphs are known.
This bittern spends most of its life standing perfectly still, snapping up any flying bug that wanders too close. It hides in tall masses of reeds, pretending to be a grass leaf. It hunts and breeds in these reeds, likely never emerging unless the reeds are disturbed.
Despite all I have learned, it’s still hard to believe these birds are not magic. I feel like I have seen a yeti.