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Can you help us identify the Bitterns at Gosforth Park Nature Reserve?

18th January 2019

Gosforth Park Nature Reserve (GPNR) is widely known as one of the best sites at which to enjoy bitterns in North East England and over the years, many people have been privileged to observe and photograph these cryptic birds at the reserve. Although we remain unsure as to just how many individuals actually utilise the site each winter, we think it will be possible to change this with your help.

Through a new study looking at plumage features and flight-feather moult and spearheaded by ornithologist, Dr Chris Redfern, it may be possible to gain an accurate insight into the number of birds using the site each year and to increase our understanding of moult progress in these enigmatic birds. We think that it will be possible to do this by detailed examination of the many excellent, high quality images that our GPNR photographers have obtained so far and can continue to take during the year. Therefore, we need your help! If you took photographs of Bitterns at the site during 2018, or plan to during 2019, would you be prepared to contribute high-quality photographs for study?

Ideally, we are looking for crisp, clear flight shots, close-ups which show the bill of the GPNR Bitterns, and also any shots which may reveal individual plumage characteristics in other parts of the body (generally, any sharp photograph showing the bird in good light would be most welcome!). These should be submitted by email to nhsn@ncl.ac.uk with a mention of where on the reserve they were taken (e.g. Pearce Hide) alongside a date. In addition, if any Bittern photographers would like to contribute to the project in other ways, such as discussing and interpreting images or coordinating interest at the scene, we would be delighted to hear from you!

Despite recent population increases, Bitterns remain a scarce species in Britain and the value of GPNR as a wintering site on a regional level cannot be understated. Through this study, which we may be able to publish in Northumbrian Naturalist, NHSN’s biannual publication, we hope to accurately assess the importance of the site for this species – with the aim of informing future management practice designed to make the site as welcoming to Bitterns as possible.

All photographs used as part of the study will be fully credited when used in NHSN publications – by submitting, we assume consent for future use in that way, but please specify if you would not like to have your images used elsewhere.