For weeks, reports had been circulating of an especially cooperative clan of Least Bitterns in this place. North America's smallest heron is not an especially easy bird to find in these parts - listed as threatened in Ohio - and even less easy to photograph, at least well. Being a fan of herons in general and Least Bitterns in particular, I finally made the pilgrimage on August 21.
This photo illustrates why Least Bitterns can be devilishly hard to see. They are prone to skulking in thick cattail stands like this. Often the only evidence of their presence is their vocalizations, some of which sound much like a cuckoo. Even if I had only seen the birds as presented in these first photos, I would have been pleased. But the juveniles, having not yet learned to hide themselves, were prone to coming right out in the open. I never did see an adult, though, although I'm told they too on occasion show nicely.
This beautiful elfin heron was probably quite common in Ohio's marshes in days of yore. Since European settlement, about 90% of Ohio's wetlands have been lost to agriculture and other forms of development, a trend typical throughout Midwestern America's breadbasket. The bittern and many other marsh birds have declined accordingly, and now seeing Least Bitterns around here is a big deal and an exceptional treat.