Friday, 26 October 2012

50 Shades of Yellow Rails

 1:   This festival certainly revs up the nerdy level comparable to the Hawk Watch and Owl Banding groups.

 2:   Oddly, in a group of nerdy-ly dressed birders, I was voted, by one nice lady, as best dressed based on my Tilly Hat and Scottevest.

 3:   At the age of 52 I think I was the youngest man in the room on the first day orientation.

 4:   There is a lot more to Rice production than you might expect.

 5:   Consumer Reports says arsenic in rice is killing people.  Arsenic is not a problem.  There is such a small amount that it does no harm.  If the amount of arsenic in rice were bad for you there would be no Cajuns. Or Chinese.

 6:   Mandatory Dork Badges worn by all make us look more like we are at a chiropractor convention, rather than a birding festival.

Okay, I don't think I can keep this up and get to 50.  It was a lame idea anyway.  Besides, after two long days of searching for Yellow Rails in two different rice fields, I am exhausted and can barely type this.  I'd get Siri to type it but if I tried to talk I'd just ramble on and Siri doesn't like that.

Anyhoo, on day one in the field that our group was sent to, it was hot, very hot.  It was wet.  Very wet. We had to wade through tractor ruts filled with water while we trailed the combine searching for rails as the rice was being harvested.  There were lots of Sora and many Virginia Rail, but over the course of nearly 6 hours there were no Yellow Rails.  Reports from the other farm seemed to indicate there were about 4 seen by many of the other folks.  I did get to ride in the cockpit of the combine and that was very cool.

At the end of the day I was dirty, tired and ready for more birds.  In this case a trip down the highway to a suburban movie theatre to watch one of the worst movies ever made, "Birdemic: Shock and Terror."  It was a special presentation from the folks at Rifftrax.  If you are unfamiliar with them, they used to do a little puppet show called "Mystery Science Theater: 3000."  Anyway these guys are are brilliantly funny at making fun of really bad movies.  In this case, a really bad movie about birds attacking the small California town of Half Moon Bay.  Glad they didn't attack when I was there.

Today started off with fog.  Lots of fog.  Forecasts of thundershowers.  It didn't look good for rails.  While we waited for the fog to lift and the rice to try out for harvest, a bunch of us went to a grass runway in the middle of a farm where, either at sometime in the past or, perhaps, sometime in the future, a small plane will land.  We were hoping a Sprague's Pipit.  We walked the length of the runway and found many Swamp, Vesper and Savannah Sparrows, and hundreds of migrating White-faced Ibis.

Afterwards I went over to the field where we were going to spend the day hunting Yellow Rails and watch the bird banders band birds.  It was a fun and exciting day.  It looked all day like it was going to rain, yet the rain held off and let us spend a cool and windy day watching the combine flush more and more Sora and Virginia Rails.  By late in the afternoon we were beginning to think this would be the year without Yellow Rails.  Then, on the opposite side of the field I was in, several people finally saw their first Yellow Rail.  I missed it!  I was worried it was the only rail sighting of the day.

I shouldn't have despaired.  The next time around I finally saw my first Yellow Rail.  It flushed into some bushes while myself and two other birders looked on.  It was Sandy's first Yellow Rail of the festival too.  I met Sandy back in Cape May, when I birded with Edna.

Things got better from there.  Mostly.  Sandy I and I decided to walk along with the combine and hope to get better looks for him and a photograph for me.  Along the way, as we traversed the rut infested rice field, I pulled a groin muscle.  I have never had a pulled groin before.  It hurts and makes it doubly difficult to walk the fields.  I was falling behind Sandy, but it turned out in my favor, as the combine flushed a Yellow Rail that I was able to get a great look at, as it flew into the next field.  I was able to clearly see the white wing patches, though once again I did not get a photo.

While we waited for the combine to make another pass, I was alerted to a group of birders over at the edge of a cut field where they were looking at some geese.  I went over and it wasn't just some geese, it was a true gaggle of geese.  There were Ross's Geese, Greater White-fronted Geese and my second new bird of the day, Snow Geese.  This was turning into a pretty grand day.  Not only had the rain held off, but it was not too hot at all.  In fact, it was getting windier and cooler as the day progressed, but we were all having a great time.

It wasn't until the third rail was flushed and found that I finally got the photograph, though not a great one.  It turns out these guys are not only very difficult to see, they are very difficult to photograph and that is why it takes a combine running through a rice field for any chance of seeing, let alone taking pictures of  these reclusive birds, but beautiful birds.  The bird banders caught one in their net and everyone was also able to view one close up as it was weighed, measured, banded and released back into the rice fields.

It was great day.  Long and messy and I didn't fall in the mud today, as I had yesterday.  I got to see the Yellow Rails and that certainly lessened the pain of my pulled groin.  Tomorrow is a trip to Pineywoods and a chance to add three or four new birds to my growing list, which now stands at 545.  I have also made plans to head into Texas tomorrow afternoon and head for the Attwater Greater Prairie Chicken NWR, where I hope to see, not surprisingly, a Greater Prairie Chicken.

And with that:

50: Photographs can tell the story better than anything I can say...

Virginia Rail


Migrating Ibis,(mostly White-faced)

Gaggle of Geese: Ross's, Greater White-fronted and Snow

Yellow Rail


  1. I think being voted the best dressed birder, amongst a group of Tilley-clad birders, is like being voted the coolest person at a Star Trek convention.

  2. make your shutter speed fast 1-1000 in your cam and the pics will be great wonderful job robert