Lifting my eyes from a refuge map to speak to my son, I glanced out the window and something caught my eye, kind of like when ET was nestled among the stuffed animals. Something didn't quite fit in. As my heart squeezed up into my throat, I softly told my son to slowly turn his head and look to the right. I could see a trace of anxiety flit across his face as he wondered what might be waiting on the other side of the glass, just a few feet away. This is bear country after all.
We always make time to get into the "wild" and see what nature is highlighting this time of year. And on one afternoon we saw something neither of us had witnessed before, an American Bittern, standing about 10 feet away in the tall marsh grass along a canal next to the road. Many people have heard them but few get the chance to see them, especially this close. Many states have listed the Bittern on their endangered lists. I managed to get a sketch done but when I took out my camera, he heard the beeping and flew off to land further back into the swamp.
When the Bittern feels he is in danger he becomes rigid and points his bill skyward, trying to mimic the reeds and grasses. With his brightly striped body and coloring, he would easily have been missed if I hadn't stopped the car in that particular spot. This bird has been know to sway with the grasses if there is a wind or stand at an angle to match the windblown reeds in an effort to blend in, earning him many nicknames such as the Stake-Bird, Look-Up, Sky-Gazer, Sun-Gazer, and Thunder Pumper because of the call they emit that can be heard up to a half mile away. This is accomplished by gulping air and forcing it out from a distended esophagus. This member of the heron family is a rather large bird, 24 to 34 inches in height and their foods of choice are frogs, salamanders, crayfish, eel, beetles, dragonflies, meadow mice and other marsh inhabitants.
The rest of the afternoon was spent watching Coots and Yellow-bellied Sliders. Every so often we would look at each other and just shake our heads, that image of the Bittern having been permanently etched into our memories next to the joy of being together again. I was given some rare gifts this week, visits with elusive creatures, making my time all the more precious. I am grateful.
"At the moment you are most in awe of all there is about life that you don't understand, you are closer to understanding it all than at any other time."