The Butter Bump

“This is a thing that makes a very odd noise morning & evening among the flags & large reedshaws in the fens some describe the noise as something like the bellowing of bulls but I have often heard it & cannot liken it to that sound at all in fact it is difficult to describe what it is like its noise had procurd it the above name by the common people the first part of its noise is an indistinct sort of muttering sound very like the word butter utterd in a hurried manner & bump comes very quick after & bums a sound on the ear as if eccho had mocked the bump of a gun just as the mutter ceasd nay this is not like I have often thought the putting ones mouth to the hole of an empty large cask & uttering the word ‘butter bump’ sharply would imitate the sound exactly after its first call that imitates the word ‘butter bump’ it repeats the word bump singly several times in a more determined & louder manner – thus ‘butter bump bump bump butter bump’ it strikes people at first as something like the coopers mallet hitting on empty casks”

The Butter Bump

John Clare

I’ve started reading some of the prose writings of one of my favourite poets, John Clare.  This piece comes in a collection known simply as Nature Notes.  In his poems he often uses colloquial words to describe the plants, animals, birds and insects with which he was familiar.  But I couldn’t figure out what a Butter Bump was.  But then I had neither heard nor seen one.

A quick search online and I found this article by Richard Mabey in praise of John Clare and the art of giving species their common names

So a Butter Bump is in fact, a Bittern.

And this is as close as I have got to seeing one so far.

reed beds 2

Somewhere out there is a Bittern.  But you would be very lucky to spot it.  In fact there are at least two of them amongst the reedbeds at Leighton Moss in Lancashire.

You can check out the RSPB website and hear for yourself the booming sound of the Butter Bump, I mean the Bittern by clicking the link here – Butter Bump

How accurate was Clare in his description?

I’m reserving judgement until I hear one for myself booming across the reed beds.  Maybe this winter.


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