THE AMAZING

LEAST BITTERN

Text and Photographs By

Bob Paty

The Watchful Eye


Where had it gone, I squinted, there was a moderate amount of glare from the water, but not enough for me to completely lose my vision. My binoculars were right beside me on the car seat, but the distance could not be over forty feet, certainly I shouldn't need them for that short distance. I pulled my hat down to shade my eyes, but that didn't help. Reluctantly I reached down and picked up the binoculars, placed them to my eyes and focused. That reed on the left, where did it come from? I didn't remember but two, now there were three. I adjusted the right eye piece on the binoculars, which brought two tiny eyes into focus; then a long thin bill of a bird between them; below a long slender neck ended at a body. Long legs and enormous feet secured all of this to adjoining reeds.
A small least bittern was using its built in camouflage to effectively conceal itself in the reeds. Standing rigidly still, with its neck outstretched, it blended perfectly into the reeds, where it spends most of its life. Scarcely nine inches tall, until it extends its neck, it's not much larger than a mourning dove. Under ordinary circumstances, the least bittern is satisfied to watch whatever is going on with one eye. If it feels threatened, as this one did, you will observe it with its neck stretched towards the heavens. Both eyes will be peering at you, from each side of its bill. I can't pinpoint why these little reed-hoppers fascinate me so, but they are as intriguing as any bird that I have observed and photographed

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