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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Vanishing Point

Air Date: Week of

Bittern sitting on a log (photo: Mark Seth Lender)

The American Bittern’s camouflaged plumage makes it nearly impossible to see when standing still. But writer Mark Seth Lender was lucky enough to find one strutting its stuff on a pond in northern Maine.


CURWOOD: The American Bittern is a secretive bird with highly developed camouflage that literally lets him hide in plain sight. Writer Mark Seth Lender had an unusually close and prolonged encounter with a bittern in a pond in Northern Maine, which is rare enough. And then, Mark writes, the bittern showed him something truly extraordinary. 

LENDER: Stut-stut-stut stutter step stutter step stop! American Bittern. He’s the one who walks the walk. If you wear scales, if you’re amphibian, if you sit, if you swim, if you skim the surface under his grim gaze, his beak, his bumpy ways - you gonna die, Old Son.

Bittern swimming (photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Shhhh! Don’t move an inch: In the high grass of sweet marsh by sweet water, Bittern stands tall. Long neck swaaaaays to the one side, swaaaaays to the other, beak in the air like a stem, like a stalk. He looks out past that killer bill, same as you with your nose in the air, he’s thinking: “I can seeeeee you… You can’t seeeee me.” It’s true: Unless you find that tall grass of American Bittern on the move - stutter step, stutter step stop - you’ll never know the who what where, you’ll never find him at all…

See Old Bittern perched on a stump?
Took a long step in,
And went across the pond.
Slip into the weeds
Like butter through a sieve
Vanish like the wind
Like he waved a magic wand.

With its grassy plumage, the American Bittern can be extremely difficult to spot (photo: Mark Seth Lender)

He didn’t see Bittern
Sittin’ on a log
And it’s one more tadpole
Won’t make frog.

Bittern with a tadpole in its mouth (photo: Mark Seth Lender)

She was lookin’ down -
When she shoulda looked sharp -
And it’s one more minnow
Never get to grow up.

Step stop stutter -
He’s agile as an otter
He can hide in the shadows
He can hide in the light
Every time he goes fishin’
He’s gonna getta bite!

CURWOOD: Mark Seth Lender is author of Salt Marsh Diary. There's a video he took of the bittern he encountered and many photos at our website LOE.org.



More about Mark Seth Lender


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