Least Bittern

Male Least Bittern
I found the male Least Bittern in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge recently. He was in a mangrove with 3 other birds, one of which is a Black-crowned Night Heron. I was focusing on the Night Heron when the Bittern made some movement that caught my eye. Now, there are a few things you should know about my experiences with Bitterns.

First, they don’t like me. They avoid me at all costs. If I spot one, they’ll hide in the reeds until I’m gone. If they see me coming, they will hold perfectly still hoping I won’t notice them. Now, that may sound like normal bird behavior as it tries to protect itself from predators, but I’m sure it isn’t. See, some of my other photographer friends can come up on the same Bittern later and he’ll give them great looks, terrific poses and wonderful facial expressions. Right Scott???

So the Least Bittern is one of my nemesis birds. So is the Black-crowned Night Heron. They don’t like to cooperate with me either. (You don’t think there is a pattern here, do you?) Imagine the decision I had to make at this point. Do I keep shooting the Night Heron, or do I concentrate on the Bittern? I decided to concentrate on the Bittern, and I’m glad I did. I ended up with this wonderful image which few photographers are able to get. Not only do I have nice even light on the subject, but his plumage is very colorful and he has his neck stretched all the way out. Usually you see Least Bitterns crouched down low and compact as they wait for unsuspecting minnow and tadpoles to swim by.

I took this image with my Canon 50D and 100-400mm lens at 400mm. The camera was set to full manual at 5.6f, 1/320 and 200 ISO. In post processing, Lightroom suggested adding 2 stops of light. That was a little too much for my tastes, so I settled for a little less than that. I punched up the vibrance slightly and increased the clarity slider and I’m very pleased with the result. I really like the background and the fact that the Bittern is not partially hidden in the reeds. To get one out in the open like this is a rare treat.

As for the Night Heron, I did fire off a few frames before I moved on to the Bittern. I didn’t have my settings quite right, so I don’t have anything to show for my efforts there. Had the Bittern not been right behind him in the mangrove, I would have spent more time on the Night Heron and would have tweaked my settings to get a keeper. Alas, I’ll just have to go back and hope that this particular mangrove is filled with opportunities again.

For those that would like to try and find this Bittern, he has been sighted in this area 3 times that I know of, 2 by me. It is rare to find a Bittern in the refuge, and the fact that he has been seen multiple times is a good sign that he will be there until migration. The two times I have seen him have been at the first parking area on Blackpoint Wildlife Drive. The first time I saw him in the mangroves along the canal next to the path leading to the blinds. This time he was in the mangrove on the right side of the road where the road makes a sharp curve to the right into the parking area. As you get out of your car, this mangrove is directly to your right and is surrounded on 3 sides by the wildlife drive.

Good luck!!


  • scott helfrich

    August 22, 2010 at 11:56 am

    Nice New site Michael, I’ll add it to my links for friends on my website…

  • scott helfrich

    August 22, 2010 at 11:57 am

    Nice New Site Michael, I’ll add it to my Link for friends on my site..

  • Klaus

    August 22, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    Nice going there, Michael! Good job on both! (Site & Blog)

    • Michael Libbe

      August 25, 2010 at 5:36 pm

      Thanks, Klaus. I appreciate the comment.

  • Dina Johnston

    August 25, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    Great story and pix on the bittern. They are very rare over here in west coast so I still have not seen one out in the wild.

    • Michael Libbe

      August 25, 2010 at 5:37 pm

      Thanks, Dina! If you get a chance to get over to the Orlando area before the Bitterns head south, I’d be happy to help you find one. Viera Wetlands in Viera is usually a good place for getting them this time of year.