Bird-Lore/Volume 01/No. 2/A Least Bittern Portrait

Least bittern on nest (Bird-Lore).png


Photographed from life by E. G. Tabor. (See page 39)

A Least Bittern Portrait


On the morning of May 27, 1897, equipped with an extra supply of patience and a 5 x 7 ‘Premo B’ camera fitted with rapid rectilinear lens, my plate-holders filled with unexposed plates, and accompanied by my wife, who has been a partner in all of my successful trips, I started for Otter Lake, Cayuga County. N. Y.

It was a beautiful morning, with not a breath of air stirring (by the way, this is the hardest of all things to control, and is an absolute necessity if you are to make fine, clear-cut negatives of birds and their natural surroundings), and the lake looked like a mirror. It took but a minute to get the large, flat-bottomed row-boat ready for the start, and we were soon gliding along, an oar’s-length from shore, scanning every tree, bush, and bunch of rushes, in search of nests, those of the Red-winged Blackbird being very plenty and placed both in bushes or rushes in about equal numbers. A pair of Kingbirds had selected as the place for their summer home, a large, low willow limb which projected over the water; a peep into the nest revealed three eggs, common, yet so beautiful in their bed of wool and feathers.

Our next finds were several nests of a pair of Long-billed Marsh Wrens, which looked more like mouse-nests than anything else I have in mind. As we could return to these later, if unable to find anything better, we had not yet exposed a single plate, reserving them for a rare or unusual find.

We were in search of nests of the Least Bittern, and as we were passing that part of the shore where they always nested, we soon located a nest, but as it only contained one egg, another nest must be found. A male Least Bittern flew up a short distance ahead of us and ‘dropped in’ back of the bushes. We rowed down to the place from which he flushed, and standing up in the boat looked around, and not more than a boat’s-length ahead, we espied a female sitting on a nest. I pushed the boat very carefully to within a couple of feet of the nest, and prepared to make an exposure. The camera was set to focus on an object 34 inches from cap of lens, and I moved it back and forth until the focus was perfect, the diaphragm was closed to ƒ16, and an instantaneous exposure with speed at 125 was made.

As most of my operations, preparatory to making the exposure, were of necessity carried on within three feet of the bird on the nest, she at several times started to leave it ; but when the bird moved I kept still, and when she kept still I worked; in this way I finally completed my preparations. The peep I got of the eggs as she partly raised off from them, just as I finished, made me squeeze the bulb before I intended to ; but the result I obtained fully satisfied me, for in no other way could I describe the results of this trip, and what I saw and learned of the habits and home-life of the Least Bittern.