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Are You Endangered?

Bittern magic

Australasian bittern standing on grass near reeds.
Rare photo of endangered Australasian Bittern. Photo by Rob Ainsworth.

All of a sudden, where I live has become important. It’s now known to be a favourite habitat of the endangered Australasian Bittern (Botaurus poiciloptilus).

The bittern is a mottled brown heron that lives and breeds in secluded wetlands. When it senses danger, it extends its neck skywards and sways, imitating the movement of the reeds around it in order to blend in and not be noticed. So, it’s seldom seen, and usually only known to be present by its distinctive call.

I’ve never seen one, but as I lie awake before dawn I hear a male’s booming call drift across the watery vegetation surrounding our property. To me, the sound is a reminder of the fragility of life. There are just over 2,000 of these birds left in Australia and New Zealand, and their habitat is being encroached upon or poisoned by human progress.

What’s it like to be endangered?

The bitterns don’t know they’re endangered. They just find ways to quietly and patiently live another day in threatening circumstances, and nurture their young ones to adulthood so my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be able to hear their calls or catch a glimpse of their feathered forms flying overhead. I appreciate their consistent efforts to live. Their unfailing unfolding of their being. Their lack of complication. Their simplicity and harmlessness.

We humans are also endangered — by ourselves. We complicate things, harm things. I think about that, too, while I lie awake listening to deep-throated bittern calls.

My husband, Rob, captured the rare photo of the bittern one day, featured at the top of this article. And the other night, just before dawn, he recorded a bittern calling, and the recording is below. It makes five distinct calls. You will hear a kookaburra calling before the bittern, and various frogs. It’s best to use headphones and turn it up quite loud to hear the low boom call.

As you listen, think of the beauty and fragility of life — the life of the bittern, and the life of yourself. You are as much a part of nature as the bird.

Be like the bittern.

Do no harm.

Make your distinctive call.

Unfailingly unfold your being.


If you’re finding life in 2021 has already tied you in a knot, it’s time to take the FREE 7 Day Mindfulness Challenge! Find sweet, calm spots in your day!

With love, Marlane

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