May 3rd, 2015
Lake County, SD
Canon 70D, 400 5.6L
(Click for larger view)
5 years. Until this week that’s the last time I’d actually seen a Virginia Rail. I actually think they’re pretty common around here, as you do hear them quite a bit when you’re around wetlands with a lot of cattails and shallow water. Actually SEEING a Virginia Rail though? That’s a treat.
I admit I cheated in getting this photograph. I rarely do it any more, but I did use a digital call of a Virginia Rail on my iPhone to attract this bird. I was birding in Lake and Kingsbury counties, trying to concentrate on shorebirds and other water birds. In a very large wetland on the Lake/Kingsbury county border, I heard one, then another, then another Virginia Rail.
Virginia Rails have several vocalizations, but whenever I think of Virginia Rails, I think of the Three Stooges. Yes, the Three Stooges. Why, you ask? Because their grunting call to me always reminds of Curly doing his “Nyuk, Nyuk, Nyuk, Nyuk!!! That’s what I was hearing on this morning, multiple Virginia Rails doing their very best Curly imitations.
What’s so dang frustrating about these guys, and Sora, another species they always seem to be found in conjunction with around here, is that sometimes when you hear them, they’re vocalizing mere feet from your location. You’re staring at the source of the sound, and instead of “bird”, all you see are cattails and other wetland vegetation. After 5 years of not actually seeing a Virginia Rail, I did indeed pull out the iPhone to see if I had a Virginia Rail call.
I did, and after a few Curly-style “Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk Nyuks”, I saw a twinge of motion in the cattails. He was only perhaps 20 feet away, peering out from amongst a stand of cattails. He was obviously interested in whatever fellow Three Stooges fan was making that noise, but he also made it quite clear that he wasn’t going to come out into the open. Not wanting to disturb him any further, I took what photos I could and stopped playing the tape.
5 years, but I got my Virginia Rail fix, and a photo that turned out better than I expected. It does a great job of showing how these guys like to stay hidden. Unless I’m incredibly lucky, now I’ll wait another 5-10 years or so before again trying to get a photo of one of these guys.