Spooked by a Bittern

As I circled Eaglewatch Lake at South Platte Park this morning, I accidentally flushed an American bittern and was spooked myself by his sudden rise from the marsh.  A medium-sized heron, this bittern has a thick torso and neck, making him appear quite large at close range; a long bill adds to his menacing appearance.

Foraging near the water's edge in both freshwater and brackish wetlands, American bitterns feed on fish, amphibians, lizards, large insects and small mammals.  When threatened, they assume a classic pose with their bill pointed skyward and their streaked plumage blending with the reeds and tall grasses.  This morning's encounter was too acute to permit that camouflage routine and he took off across the lake.

Wintering primarily in coastal marshes of the southern U.S. and Mexico, American bitterns way also utilize drier areas with tall grass.  Most nest in freshwater wetlands of southern Canada and the northern U.S. while smaller numbers summer in lakeside marshes of the Great Plains, Mid-Atlantic region and the Central Valley of California.  Solitary for most of the year, males are highly territorial during the breeding season, announcing their presence with loud "booming" calls.