American bittern turns up at nature reserve in Suffolk, UK

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The American bittern poses for its many admirers at Suffolk Wildlife Trust's Carlton Marshes nature reserve, near Lowestoft.

© Gavin Durrant
The American bittern poses for its many admirers at Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s Carlton Marshes nature reserve, near Lowestoft.

An American star with stripes has lured hundreds of birdwatchers to an East Anglian nature reserve – and has provided a £1million appeal to extend the site with a welcome bittern bonus.

Twitchers from many parts of Britain have been converging on Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s Carlton Marshes, near Lowestoft, to see an American bittern – a species rarely seen in Britain and never before in Suffolk. Related to the great bittern for which East Anglian reedbeds are famous, the rare transatlantic visitor is distinguished by its smaller size, longer bill, greater contrast in its wing pattern and, most obviously, prominent brown neck stripes.

Hordes of birdwatchers have visited the reserve, filling its overflow car park almost to capacity, and donating generously to the trust’s Sir David Attenborough-backed Broads Appeal. The trust aims to extend Carlton Marshes by 384 acres with the purchase of Share Marsh – which is being frequented by the rare visitor – and Peto’s Marsh, together with new infrastructure that includes a new visitor centre.

The American bittern stealithily walks through Share Marsh at Suffolk Wildlife Trust's Carlton Marshes nature reserve, near Lowestoft.

© Gavin Durrant
The American bittern stealithily walks through Share Marsh at Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s Carlton Marshes nature reserve, near Lowestoft.

Trust warden Matt Gooch said about 600 birdwatchers visited on Sunday and others were arriving today. About £400 was raised for the appeal on the first day – boosting the fund which now stood at about £903,000.

Reserve volunteer and keen Waveney area wildlife photographer Gavin Durrant, of Worlingham, triggered the twitch by posting photographs on social media.

“I was half-hoping to photograph bitterns as there had been a few sightings recently and we’d never got a picture of one before at Carlton,” he said. “At Share Marsh a Chinese water deer started staring at me and I was watching that when out of the corner of my eye a ‘bittern’ flew in low.”

He took photos of the bird and later viewed them at home, thinking the bittern “looked a bit funny”. He posted images on social media that were quickly spotted by Suffolk naturalist Rob Holmes who identified the species as American bittern.

It is not known when the bird arrived on the reserve but many believe it may have crossed the Atlantic last autumn and wandered off course to Europe, spending the winter further south before heading north on its spring migration – and calling in at Carlton. How long it will stay, and its ultimate fate, is also unknown but many birdwatchers across Britain will be hoping it remains long enough for them to see it.

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