The Garçote (Little Bittern) is not the easiest bird to see despite the Algarve being one of the best places to spot them in Portugal. This is partly because they are quite secretive as they potter about the reedbeds – can you spot him below?
It isn’t just because they skulk though. The other reason they are difficult to spot is because they are crepuscular. By the way aren’t those both great words! Crepuscular means twilight, coming from the Latin words for dusk (crepusculum) and dark (creper). It is used in zoology to describe animals which are mainly active at dawn or dusk. Skulk is a Scandinavian word, and I think a wonderful word for describing how the Little Bittern moves stealthily through the reedbeds.
The Little Bittern’s Latin name is Ixobrychus minutus – Mintuus means small and according to wikipedia Ixobrychus is created from two words – the Ancient Greek word for a reed plant ixias and also brukhomai which means to bellow. I’ve not been fortunate enough to hear their song yet but listening to another excellent Xeno-canto recording by Pete Boesman I can sort of understand that part of their name. What do you think though? (Peter Boesman, XC270427. Accessible at http://www.xeno-canto.org/270427)
Whilst I may not have heard them we have been incredibly lucky in seeing them. In fact it is quite extraordinary we have given the Little Bittern’s habits and ours. I have only been out at dawn twice in Portugal and we are rarely birding near reedbeds at dusk, light too poor to see let alone photograph! All of our sightings were at Ludo and Lago a de São Lourenço, one of our favourite birding locations.
The first sightings were over 2 years ago when we first saw an adult in their black and white plumage, and then a few moments later a juvenile in their brown striped plumage. The juvenile put on a wonderful ‘fishing show’ about 10metres in front of us. It was so exciting to watch. The shots of his neck extended mean he has spotted potential prey, which like other herons could have been anything from insects to worms to fish or even voles.
The third sighting was an adult on Christmas Day. Somewhat unusual as most Little Bitterns head south to Africa for the winter, but occasionally they are know to stay in Europe in the winter months. This one was a little bit further away than the ones we had seen previously and he/she didn’t stay long, but it was a lovely Christmas present. Even more so now I have discovered they are crepuscular as it was late morning by the time we made it out to the lagoons for our Christmas Day walk.