A RARE bird has been spotted at an East Lancashire nature reserve.

The bittern is increasing in numbers in the North West because it is finding more places are like home, wildlife experts said.

Conservation work is creating corridors for bittern, a member of the heron family that spends most of its time in reed beds.

And the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside is reporting success stories with this wonderful bird now becoming a regular visitor to its reserves.

Two bittern returned to Brockholes in Samlesbury this week, it is believed to be the fifth time they have settled at the six-year-old reserve.

Bittern are regular visitors to Wigan Flashes and when young birds appeared it was thought to be proof that they have bred. Recent records show that they have only bred at the RSPB’s Leighton Moss in recent years.

There are also reports of another bird being spotted just off the Wigan Flashes reserve.

Mere Sands Wood in West Lancashire is another hotspot for bittern with regular sightings from the Rufford Hide, where birders flock every winter.

The Wildlife Trust is also working to create habitats at Lunt Meadows in Merseyside, by growing and planting huge reed beds.

A trust spokesman said: “In the UK we now have more than 60 breeding bitterns with over 100 males and certainly more than a dozen have been reported at various sites in the North West. This is from, a low of just three known nests in 1995.

“The Lancashire Wildlife Trust was part of a Europe-wide conservation project funded by the EU to develop our knowledge of this charismatic species and then create great reedbed habitats for them.

“Our planting of reed beds at nature reserves is creating corridors for bittern to travel in search of shelter and food. If a bittern lands at a reedbed it normally hangs around for quite a few weeks before moving on, and may well stay and boom in the spring.

“When it was reported that we had a young birds at Wigan last year it was really exciting because it almost certainly means bittern have bred in Wigan for the first time in living memory.”

Bittern are shy birds and extremely well camouflaged. Their brown and cream, streaky bodies are perfect for hiding in the reeds. They can stand motionless for long periods of time but will move when hunting for fish, eels or small amphibians.

They are famous for “booming” during the mating season and to contact each other.

For more information about Lancashire Wildlife Trust reserves go to www.lancswt.org.uk and www.brockholes.org.