The Mangrove Bittern – John Bradley

the bittern struts like a pastor at prayer
breviary firmly in hand
head hunched and shoulders square
in the softness of the dusk light
each step placed with care
among the thinning mangroves
it continues its quest seemingly unaware
of pungent smells aircraft roar
panting dozers ship’s throb
invaders of its space that try to rob
it of its rightful place
with focussed step and measured pace
it calmly chooses to ignore

the bittern pauses by the edge of the shore
text wide open as before
tips its head from left to right
fluffs its feathered crown
frame freezes on the tidal flat
fades from sight
one with its habitat
the waxy leaves rustle
and flick striated shadows
over the clicking mud
a breeze shimmies the pool
breaking all reflections
waves ruffle the edge of the creek
faster than shutter speed the bird strikes
fixing the frog firmly in its beak.

the bittern stretches its neck
as if about to preach
scurries beneath boughs’ shade
flicks from dark to bright
picks up speed across the sand
with awkward strokes takes flight
swings towards Quarries Reach
leaves behind its haunting call
the final pleading cry
that infects a blood-red sky


Author’s note:  The mouth of the Brisbane River was a massive delta harbouring a complex ecosystem. The complex combination of flora and fauna has all but disappeared. With the development of the Port of Brisbane, Brisbane Airport, mega -industrial development myriads of mangroves and the life that has inhabited the area have been disappeared. The sensitive and shy mangrove bittern is one such species that has lost its habit and, with that destruction, the food which nourished it. With the haunting cry {aka Bunyip}, the bittern leaves us bereft of understanding. This was my place. I once haunted those mangoves and streams looking for catch. I lament the progress and the enviromental extermination which goes with it.