Monday, March 25, 2013

Run out of Town on a Rail

Last week I fulfilled a long-time goal. No no, I didn't swim the English Channel in one breath or slam-dunk a basketball with ma' feet--those are still on the list. I had been wanting to bike along the Tres Rios spillway for a while, both for the general experience and to measure how long it takes to get from the 91st avenue entrance to the approximately 121st avenue termination. The best birding at Tres Rios is, in my experiences, in the first mile or so and then at the end, which leaves 2 or 3 miles in between to cover that's not very birdy and, in the hotter months, is a serious deterrent to seeing what's at the end.  Since there's no driving on the site, biking is the quick alternative, and in truth it only took maybe fifteen minutes to go the distance. 
The downside is that bicycle birding is not great birding. It's difficult to hear vocalizations, and while you can still pick up waterfowl and raptors, you tend to miss the smaller birds. Maybe it's just as well, because little buggers like this Wilson's Warbler always pose with a branch in their face anyway.


It's a really pleasant ride though, and I am glad to have scoped out the schematics for future expeditions when I need to go down the and back the site, and want to do it quickly. The real triumph of the day though was not just the minor feat of biking, but a nifty bird sighting. Very often at Tres Rios I hear Virginia Rails, but seldom see them. Whizzing by on a bicycle only exacerbates this problem, which means it just must've been a lucky day. Near where I stopped with my dad and younger brother to examine a chunk of dry-ice someone ditched out in the middle of the trail (Was it from a cooler or something? I don't know, it was odd.), I just happened to be standing in the right spot to see one of these common but elusive swamp chickens tip-toe out of the reeds.


With my frame largely concealed by the tulles, the Rail comfortably foraged around, sometimes in the sun and sometimes in the shade. Of course, it was often obscured from view too, but every few minutes it would stray into visible areas.


Ah yes, it might be impolite to stare at the bird's derrière, but there is much to appreciate in it's lateral shape--perfect for slinking through tall reeds with minimal disturbance. Thin as a rail...it's an appropriate expression.


It was most satisfying to finally see one of these birds out in the open. Eventually it spied me and bolted back to the reeds. That part of the experience was a little bit heart-breaking; here I was thinking we had been bonding and becoming good bro pals. Wild animals will always be wild, and they will always hurt you, eventually.

20 comments:

  1. The water services employees that maintain the wetlands use the dry ice to attract mosquitoes, I guess they are trying to keep them out of the vector control traps.

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    1. Ah very cool Jeff, thanks for commenting.

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  2. Nicely done Laurence! That rail is a real treat when they make an appearance. Tricky little devils!

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    1. Yup. I probably won't have another gallinaceous swamp dwellers for three years now. It was worth it!

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  3. Wow! What a lucky break. They are so secretive and I am like you in some respects; I hear them on just about every visit, but rarely catch a glimpse of them. They are more secretive than the Sora. Great photos as well!

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    1. Twas' lucky indeed. It'll either be just a week, or years, until I see one again.

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  4. Nice sighting, and hilariously mournful ending. Some bromances are just never meant to be.

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    1. Cheers Josh.

      It was a very beauty-and-the-beast sort of thing, except that the beast stayed a beast. But which one was the beast? Hmm...

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  5. What a wonderful sighting! And then you gave me a good laugh and made a very important point! Wild things are always wild, no matter how much we want to feel special and bond with them! (sigh)

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    1. hehe...we set ourselves up for heartbreak so often as birders.

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  6. What?!?! Biking as a solution? In Phoenix? For real?! The last time I was in Phoenix, my cousin took me hiking at South Mountain - in April - walking was brutal. He was thoroughly chastised by his mother for the idea.

    The Virginia Rail, however, is lovely. Might be worth a bike ride. Might.

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    1. Oh I think someone is used to New England/Northeast-type weather.

      It can be tough stuff, but at least when biking you create a sort of breeze as you go. However, is this a viable option in late July?...yes I'll still vouch for it, but they don't call Arizona "the toughest, most bad-ass state in the union" for nothing.

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  7. Very used to it and very tired of it! The Office of Birds and Beetles is currently lamenting the 125 days of snow per year in the Northern Hemisphere (Southern Hemisphere gets 7 days/year if you were curious).

    I thought the phrase was "Ditat Deus" for Arizona? God enriches aka God overdoes the heat?

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    1. No no...you must be thinking of some other, lame state. Our motto is definitely "Toughest, most-badass state around."

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    2. Are you sure that isn't New Jersey?

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    3. I think NJ's is, "Fattest Governor."

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  8. Excellent find, Laurence! It's always difficult to photograph these elusive birds. You captured some great images, though! Virginia Rails have such pretty plumage.

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    1. Thanks Julie. I should've maybe bought a lotto ticket that day.

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  9. What awesome shots of such an elusive bird!

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