Look for One Thing, Find Another

American bittern at Panther Hollow Lake, Schenley Park, 28 April 2023 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

Sunday 30 April 2023

Early Friday morning in pouring rain, Adrian Fenton was at Schenley Park looking for two soras reported the day before on eBird. Soras (Porzana carolina) are unusual in the City of Pittsburgh so it was worth the trip to look for them, but try as he might Adrian could not find any soras. Instead he found something much better.

At 7:29am I was writing Friday’s blog when I got Adrian’s Rare Bird Alert that there was an American bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus) among the reeds at Panther Hollow Lake. This bird is rare indeed! I dropped everything, put on my rain gear, and drove 5 minutes to Schenley Park.

Upon arrival I caught up with Adrian and he showed me where the bittern was. Except that I could not see it at first. Its camouflage is so good that it took me a while to latch onto the bird. Thank you, Adrian, for your patience!

More birders arrived, some looking from above on Panther Hollow Bridge. Charity Kheshgi viewed from eye level, as I had, and captured some great images of this cryptic bird.

American bittern at Panther Hollow Lake, Schenley Park, 28 April 2023 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)
American bittern at Panther Hollow Lake, Schenley Park, 28 April 2023 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

Charity noticed that the bittern made a vertical wiggle with its neck and took a video. You can hear the sound of red-winged blackbirds and the ka-thunk of cars overhead on the Panther Hollow Bridge in the background. The wiggle is typical American bittern behavior though I’m unable to find an explanation for it.

By the end of Friday, 29 people had reported the bittern in eBird(*) but many more than that stopped by for a look. Some of them missed it on Friday, including Steve Northrop who found a sora that hadn’t been seen all day! See his checklist with sora photo.

So Friday came full circle with a search for a sora that found a bittern and a search for a bittern that found a sora.

On Saturday the bittern and sora were still present with an ever changing crowd of birders, binoculars, cameras and scopes. The crowd did not disturb the birds as the best viewing was from (up the hill) gravel paths 40 feet from the nearest water. The bittern was visible for most of the day Saturday, but the sora remained elusive. Around 6:30pm both birds put in an appearance and Steve Northop was there to witness it. Ta Dah!

Look for one thing, find another.

UPDATE on Friday 5 May 2023: Both the bittern and sora were still present on Friday 5 May in bright sunshine. By that time they’d stayed in Schenley Park more than 7 days and had become celebrities. My estimate is that 200 people came to see them, many of us multiple times.

(photos and video by Charity Kheshgi)

4 thoughts on “Look for One Thing, Find Another

  1. Hi Kate. Why are the sightings hidden? We drove all over Ohio yesterday looking for bitterns. Also, when you said you got the email alert, which listserv is it from? Thanks.

    1. eBird admins can hide sightings from the general public if they think too many people might disturb the bird. I signed up for hourly Rare Bird Alerts on eBird for Allegheny County here: https://ebird.org/alerts Even when sightings were hidden from the general public I still got alerts.

  2. Not too late to see the bittern. Was still there this morning around 9 am. Didn’t see the soras though.

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