Saturday, August 21, 2010

Thin as a rail, nemesis no more!

Today was a good day!  Not only did I get to do some shorebirding - I'm embarrassed to say, for the first time this summer - I also saw a life bird.  After this I had lunch with my birding friend, Robert Epstein, and I even had time to clean my house - overdue.  It also rained - much needed in southeast Michigan.

Point Mouillee has been a shorebird mecca this season with godwits, avocets, and phalaropes all being seen.  This morning I joined about fifteen others for the Oakland Audubon Society field trip to Point Mouillee led by Jim Fowler.  For the first time in a long time we had an overcast day in southeast Michigan.  Our first bird was a Willet (Tringa semipalmata) - always a good bird in Michigan.  Following this we moved on to find Snowy Egret (Egretta thula).  By the time we arrived at cell three of the banana, we learned from Will Weber and Jerry Jourdan that earlier two Red-necked Phalaropes (Phalaropus lobatus) had been present.  Jim quickly found Baird's Sandpiper (Calidris bairdii) and Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor).  More searching turned up White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis), Red Knot (Calidris canutus) and Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres).  All of the other more common shorebirds found in Michigan this time of year were also present, but according to Jim, in numbers much reduced from his scouting the day before.

As there was no chance for photos of the Willet or of any of the distant birds in cell three, I thought this still beautiful swamp rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) worthy of a photo.  It began to rain hard enough where it seemed apparent that the field trip would soon come to end. We drove down the north dike toward the Sigler Road parking lot to try - successfully - for a second look at the Willet.  We came upon a small group of people with bikes, scopes and binoculars.  Jerry Jourdan was amongst them and came quickly over to Jim's car.  This could only mean one thing - good bird.    

Indeed!  Larry Urbanski had found a juvenile King Rail (Rallus elegans) feeding in the puddles of a protected ditch.  He had his scope set up on the bird and, gratefully, the arrival of fifteen people eager to see it did not scare it permanently back into the marsh.  I have heard King Rail many times, but have never before seen one - and not for lack of trying.  This was my life King Rail.  

We started out viewing the bird from the distance as seen in the photo above.  It was extraordinarily cooperative and we were able to move closer and closer - very important for me to try for decent photos. 

I took over a hundred photos of the bird - about 90 of them immediately deleted upon downloading.  But these and a few others survived. Double click on each photo to enlarge the image.

I like this photo because, though the bird is not slipping into marsh grass, it is the iconic "thin as a rail" pose.  See David Allen Sibley's, The Sibley Guide to Birds, page 153 in the first edition, for Habits of Rails.

The King Rail was certainly having feeding success in the puddles as demonstrated in Jerry's YouTube video. Perhaps seeing this while flying over, a Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) joined the rail and they companionably fed side-by-side for awhile.

For really good photos of the King Rail, see Robert Epstein's Flickr site by clicking here or in My Favorite Websites on the right.  Also, keep an eye on Jerry Jourdan's blog as he will also have more photos and improved quality video when he has time to post.  Both of Jerry's blogs are also linked in My Blog List.

The only thing missing from this otherwise perfect day was the Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) bonanza that had been reported by others who visited on prior sunny days.   

The loud calling of a killdeer overhead would occasionally scare the rail back into the tall marsh grass.  But not for long.  Once the killdeer commotion was over, it reliably came back out to resume feeding.  I took the photo of an end season flowering rush (Botomus umbellatus), an invasive plant from Europe first introduced as an ornamental plant for water gardens.  I initially labelled this as a swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata).  Jim sent me an email to correct my identification.  You can read more about flowering rush here.  Why I ever thought it was swamp milkweed ... 

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