I rely upon the kindness of other birders

Every day I’m reminded of how kind other birders can be in sharing their knowledge. Thanks to one of them, today at the Abbott Marshlands at the edge of Trenton, I was treated to a rare sight: a least bittern.

Knowing that these elusive birds have been visiting the marsh across from Silver Lake at John A. Roebling Park, I headed out this morning with fingers crossed. Although I’ve made several trips to the marsh, this was my first morning visit.

Arriving at 6:50 a.m., I set out on the tree-lined path that skirts the marsh. I was delighted to be greeted by a couple of high-volume belted kingfishers. I also spooked three wood ducks as I continued up the path, taking each turnoff to the edge of the marsh.

If a bittern was about, I couldn’t tell. I continued on the trail across a concrete bridge onto the red trail (which I’ve done several times before) and veered off onto the orange trail just to see where it would take me. I soon discovered a new view of the marsh and also came upon an intersection with the white trail, which I followed for a while.

Although I saw two great blue herons, there wasn’t much other activity, so I retraced my steps and when I got back to the bridge, I spotted Jim Parrish coming up the trail. Jim is one of the top birders in Mercer County, and he’s No. 1 in species spotted at the Mercer Meadows Pole Farm. We cross paths a couple of times each week.

It was his reports of least bitterns at the marsh that brought me out. In his usual accommodating way, Jim volunteered to show me the best spots to watch for the bittern.

Our first couple of stops produced another heron, a spotted sandpiper and a warbling vireo. We eventually moved on to a spot off the main trail that he said was the best prospect for catching the bittern. The bird, he said, tends to park in one place for a good while, then jump up and fly to another spot in the marsh for another extended stay.

We were in luck. Within five minutes, Jim spotted the bittern flying left to right. I picked it up in my binoculars, and the bird nestled into the greenery on the edge of a channel running through the marsh. We waited another five minutes or so, and the bird re-emerged and flew off deeper into the marsh.

It was a thrill to see this bird, rare in this part of the world, and add it to my life list. I might have spotted it on my own, but it’s highly doubtful. Jim has taught me quite a bit about birds and how to find them, and I am grateful.

Published by Dan

University media executive by day, blogger by night, I am a well-traveled resident of New Jersey

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