20/09/2013
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Yellow Bittern colonises Red Sea

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Yellow Bittern is a familiar sight across southern Asia, but a newly-discovered colony in Egypt on the Red Sea coast has come as some surprise to ornithologists. Photo: Cp9asngf xommons.wikimedia.org
Yellow Bittern is a familiar sight across southern Asia, but a newly-discovered colony in Egypt on the Red Sea coast has come as some surprise to ornithologists. Photo: Cp9asngf xommons.wikimedia.org
Though known about for over a year, a newly-discovered colony of a heron species hitherto unknown in the Western Palearctic has just been announced.

Following the news about to be published in print in this month's Birdwatch of a singing Yellow Bittern finally being identified for certain after being present for over a year at Hamata, Egypt – a Western Palearctic first – further information has now emerged that the mangroves there actually hold a breeding colony.

The initial story we received implied that the species was first merely suspected in spring 2012, and that the German ornithologists who heard the bird – actually present to do a taxonomic evaluation of the Red Sea mangroves – finally trapped it this July, confirming the identity.

It has since turned out that out that two males were actually trapped in April 2012, but their identity was kept quiet to prevent disturbance, presumably mostly from anticipated 'WP' listers. DNA, measurements, photographs and sound recordings were all taken to confirm and document the occurrence.

Two more males trapped this year had brood patches indicating that breeding was taking place, encouraging the field workers present to investigate similar habitat in the region, much of which revealed further pairs of Yellow Bittern. At least three nests were discovered and photographed, but there are certainly more lying undiscovered in the area.

The species is notoriously shy and retiring like others of the genus Ixobrychus (for example, Little Bittern), but the songs of the male are more easily heard, often at night. Yellow Bittern is common across southern Asia and onto the Pacific islands, but whether the Red Sea birds indicate a colonisation by vagrants or that there are other colonies in the little-birded Arabian Peninsula is, as yet, unknown. The nearest known colonies are in Oman and the Seychelles. 

Reference
Hering, J, Barthel, P H, Eilts, H-J, Frommolt, K-H, Fuchs, E, Heim, W, Müller, K, and Päckert, M. 2013. Die Chinadommel Ixobrychus sinensis am Roten Meer in Ägypten – erste Nachweise eines übershenen westpaläarktischen Brutvogels. Limicola 26: 253-278.
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