We’ve been bird-watching for quite a while now, and finding a new species for our list does not happen all that often anymore. The 15th of December therefore was a red letter day for us when we encountered this Dwarf Bittern between Lower Sabie and Skukuza in the Kruger National Park, taking our number of South African bird species seen to 588 (of roughly 973 ever recorded in this country).
The Dwarf Bittern is a small species of heron that is mostly nocturnal and found singly or in pairs. It generally occurs around seasonal and permanent water bodies surrounded by dense and emergent vegetation. They feed mainly on insects, crabs, frogs and small fish.
Dwarf Bitterns breed in periods of highest rainfall, often nesting in association with other kinds of heron. Their nests are flimsy platforms of twigs, built in a hurry by both partners. Clutches of 2-5 eggs are incubated for around 3 weeks by both parents. The chicks leave the nest before they’re 2 weeks old, although they can’t fly yet.
The Dwarf Bittern is an uncommon summer visitor to South Africa, with most records from Mpumalanga and Limpopo. It occurs in low densities over much of sub-Saharan Africa and the IUCN considers the Dwarf Bittern to be of least concern.
As luck would have it, just a few months later we found another Dwarf Bittern, this time on the Eastern Shores of Lake St. Lucia.