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Monday, May 14, 2007

Black Rail - an Epic Chase

On Sunday I was informed of the discovery of a Black Rail by Jon Wuepper, possibly even up to 2 or 3 individuals, in a fallow field in Berrien County. This would be a fourth state record for Michigan, and the first chasable bird since June-July of 1988, when a male sang repeatedly at Hofma Park in Grand Haven.

So, I made the requisite phone calls and pulled together a search party for Sunday evening/Monday morning. We were unable to get to the site until 10:20 PM, when we were informed that despite being heard sporadically throughout the day the bird hadn't called since 8:30PM! We quickly found out exactly how quiet it was: the Woodcocks had gone to bed, and even the Soras and Sedge Wrens weren't making barely a peep. By midnight, when we still hadn't heard the bird, and had heard only a handful of Sora calls, we began to worry.

Around 12:00 or 12:30, one of our party said he heard the bird while some of the others were clapping. But it had only called once, and no one else had heard it. A half hour later, three of the five of us (not including me) claimed to have heard it again, right at the end of another clapping bout overlaid with Sora tapes. Fortunately, the recorder was rolling at that moment. Here is the clip (listen at the very end for the BLRA):

BLRA1.wav (click "download file", type in code)

The Soras you hear in this clip are coming from our mp3 player, but the Black Rail tape was not played during this time; what you hear is the real deal. But unfortunately, although I had heard a strange note in the mix during this bout, I could not say for sure whether it was a Black Rail, so I still couldn't count it! We stayed until 1:30AM, at which time, I finally heard, very clearly, 1 single "kiki doo" from the Black Rail. I didn't get it on tape, however, but for a night where we were all feeling we were going home empty-handed, it was a welcome sound. Great find- kudos to Jon Wuepper for spending time surveying the county and getting the word out!

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