Friday, April 6, 2012

The Tale of the Yellow Rail

Seeing a Yellow Rail up close and personal is a dream for a lot of birders. Just getting a quick look flying over marshy grassland is nearly impossible. That's why birders from around the country come to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge just to catch a glimpse of the elusive rail during the annual Yellow Rail Walks. I was more than fortunate to get about a 5 minute-look at one of the most secretive birds in North America.
Yellow Rail at Anahuac NWR - Samuel Taylor©
It all started bright an early on Sunday morning after a late night drive from Corpus Christi to Beaumont. We were going on about 4 hours of sleep and a cup of coffee when we strapped on our rain boots, doused ourselves in mosquito repellent and joined more than a dozen birders to tromp through mud and sharp marsh grass to look for the prized bird.

Our leader David Sarkozi has been doing these walks for more than 20 years. He gave a short orientation and explained just exactly what we were getting ourselves into. He pulled out a long rope with milk jugs filled with some material that made them rattle and explained that we needed to march through the grass in a tight formation behind the line. The idea was to flush the rails, which would usually be content waiting out the oncoming traffic or just walking right by Rail Walkers in the knee-high grass.

 The morning was unsuccessful for Yellow Rail, but we did get a few Soras.
Sora after being flushed.
It wasn't until the afternoon when we tried again that we got exactly what we wanted. After about 20 minutes of fruitless walking, Arman caught a glimpse of something flying into the grass behind me. We turned our attention to the area and dragged the line across the grass. Nothing... So we tried one more time and out popped a Yellow Rail.

David instructed us to quickly form a circle around the area where it had dropped down. We thought the rail would come up out of the grass but instead it walked right by one of the other birders and out of the circle.

Amazingly, we got another chance and flushed the rail once more. This time we formed a tighter circle and didn't leave much room for him to walk out. Instead, he allowed us to get some good footage of his yellow-gold plummage.

Thanks to David Sarkozi for the lifetime experience at Anahuac. We had a blast and got to see something that most birders only hope to see. The rare sighting was well worth tromping through the mud, muck and mosquitos.
Left to Right: Daria and Marcin Kotjka; Arman Moreno; Me


  1. Nice! Had a great time Sam. I couldn't help but feel sorry for that tiny bird seeing it in such a vulnerable state. However I was also in awe that something so small and secretive has the ability to migrate thousands of miles each year. I feel very privileged to have caught a glimpse of this elusive North American Bird.

    1. It was definitely a lifetime experience. Are you going to Corpus again this weekend? I may run down there Saturday. Looks like migration is starting to pick up.