Munuscong Potholes is a tiny sparkling gem at the eastern edge of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I discovered it this spring while searching for Le Conte’s Sparrow to record. It is only some 30 acres of wet sedge meadow surrounding a couple of small, cattail-lined ponds. The soundscape was populated by Red-winged Blackbirds, Sandhill Cranes, several different sparrows and, to my surprise and delight, three American Bitterns!
Bitterns are notoriously difficult to film and record. They are skulkers, preferring to hunker down in the vegetation or stand reed-thin and stock still in the cattails. And their call, while low-pitched so as to travel far through the marsh, has a ventriloquistic effect that makes it hard to locate. I was fortunate with this bird in that I was able to follow it over the course of an hour, moving ever closer, hiding behind shrubs, and standing motionless for long periods.
I have always been drawn to this bird, partly due to its odd behavior when threatened (extending its neck, head, and bill upwards in imitation of the reeds), but mainly because of its iconic call and the quaint vernacular name “thunder-pumper” that is derived from that call.
Shortly after I shot this video a second bird flew past, low overhead, and landed at the edge of a pond some 100 feet away. “My” bird flew after it, landed close by, and walked slowly behind it into the cattails. First date? Mated pair? I never found out.