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Friday, October 26, 2012

Yellow Rail - An Adventure of a Lifetime

Banding of the Yellow Rail
     Sharon and I arrived in Jennings, Louisiana for the Yellow Rail & Rice Festival. We have been looking forward to this trip for a good three months. The plans called for all the participants to go out in the rice fields as the farmers were harvesting their second crop of rice. The fun part (beside finding Yellow Rails) was getting to ride on the farmer's combine during the harvest.
Participants riding the combine
That's us disembarking the combine
       We were lucky to find a Yellow Rail on our first time out. Most riders didn't have the thrill of finding their lifer Yellow Rail until the second day. Besides the Yellow Rails, we also were able to observe about 10 Virginia Rails and an amazing 100+ Soras.  
      Even before we arrived at the rice fields Sharon and I found some other nice birds. Lots of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks. There were thousands of Greater White-fronted Geese and Long-billed Dowitchers. Another 500 White-faced Ibis and lots of shorebirds, including Stilt Sandpipers, Black-necked Stilts and American Avocets.
Some of the many Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks
      On day 2 we awoke to very thick fog so the rice couldn't be harvested because the fields were wet and that would clog the combines. So we headed to Lacassine NWR where we added Gull-billed and Caspian Terns. We also saw many Common Gallinule and after much searching were able to find a juvenile Purple Gallinule. Other birds of interest were Anhingas and Neotropic Cormorants and Yellow-headed Blackbirds.

Common Gallinule

Yellow-headed Blackbirds mixed in with other blackbirds

     The bird banders were out in full force on the second day and there were nets up everywhere. They had a tough job because once the combine made a pass along one or two rows of rice they would have to carry the nets to a new location closer to the uncut rice areas. It was also interesting to watch the banders who were on the opposite side of the uncut fields from the nets. They had butterfly nets and when a rail would flush in their direction and land in the cut sections of the field they would chase it down and catch it with the butterfly nets. They had a banner day today with Soras. We watched as they banded both Soras and Virginia Rails. I was able to release one after banding.
Al with Sora
     After all the time spent in the field both days the banders could not catch a Yellow Rail. Finally on our last trip on the combine when we flushed the third Yellow Rail on our run, I was able to direct the grad students on the ground to the spot where the bird had landed. We then watched them band and release it.
Notice white secondaries of the rail

      It was an exciting time for both of us. The festival itself was a little unorganized due to having to plan around when the fields would be dry. We always started rail trips around noon so the dew would evaporate and the fields would be dry. I would highly recommend the festival for anyone needing to see this bird.

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