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The birds of Britain are changing fast. The once shy heron now fishes in the river in my local supermarket car park as crowds of Saturday shoppers pass by just feet away. Want to see the rare and spectacular peregrine falcon? There is a pair nesting on the front of Tate Modern in London.

The commonest bird in and around Kew Gardens today may well be the ring necked parakeet, there are reckoned to be some thirty thousand living and breeding in the leafy suburbs of south London. Some say a few hundred were imported for a film set and when shooting was over they were released only to thrive here.

One of Britain’s rarest birds the bittern is doing well on the Norfolk Broads. Sometimes it is much easier to hear a bird than to see it. Those bitterns of the Norfolk Broads are a great example. If you are out on the water or on a waterside ramble, as the silence of evening falls you’ll hear a low haunting rumble. “Like the noise you make gently blowing across the mouth of a milk bottle” is the common description, but today milk bottles are almost as rare as bitterns.

Once you have heard it you’ll never forget the bittern’s boom and you’ll realise what a common factor it is in the Broadland soundscape. Seeing a bittern is a different matter altogether. The bird is heron shaped and the size and colour a small domestic chicken and it is one of our shyest and least easily spotted birds.

I’ve seen just two in a lifetime of spending times on the Broads. I’ve seen one flying, and one in its characteristic pose, neck straight up imitating the Norfolk reed in which it makes its home.

The return of the bittern is a real achievement for the Broads National Park. Breeding numbers are increasing every year and that means your chances of seeing one are improving too.
Another rare bird species being seen again in the magical waterland of the Broads National Park is the European crane. A program to protect and re-establish this amazing bird is going ahead both in Britain and across the whole of Europe.

Gawky on the ground, supremely elegant in flight the crane was missing from our British landscape for far too long. Now good work by enthusiasts and members of local naturalists trusts mean you can see them flying again.

Nesting sites are, of course, a well kept secret, predatory egg collectors are still on the prowl, but there is a very good chance of seeing a flock of cranes fly over Hickling Broad from the Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s wonderful observation tower on the Broad. It’s a sight, like seeing your first bittern that you will never forget.

This article first published in the Morning Star, 2012

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