[Tweeters] Rail, Quail, and Foaming Ducks

Jeff Gibson gibsondesign at msn.com
Mon May 19 08:18:25 PDT 2014

Yesterday was a fun bird day for me in Port Townsend.
Still high off the inspiration of dawn Robin song, I walked down the hill to Kah Tai Lagoon, a well known PT bird spot.
First cool thing was seeing a Virginia Rail in the reeds along the lagoon. It has been quite awhile since I've seen one. For the size of this bird, it does create a remarkable volume of noise. This bird was blaring out all sorts of wierd yahooing - calls unlike any I've heard before from this bird. It sounded like it should be a rail, given the location, but it wasn't until I got a look at it, that the bird started making it's more familiar calls.
Just for the record, the Virginia Rail was the first , and last, victim of my participation in using bird call playback in the field. The year was 1974, and I was with my stoner birding buddy Curtis watching birds at Lake Campbell on Fidalgo Island. Curtis, raised up in the competitive aura of Connecticut / New York birding, happened to have a cassette player (if your'e young ask a geezer what that is), set it down on the dock, and turned it on to "Virginia Rail".
Of course it worked like a charm, and in just about a minute a rail walked right up on the dock and actually perched on the cassette player, saying to the speaker "I know your'e in there, come out you coward!". Or so I imagine.
While amusing, and allowing for fantastic looks at this typically elusive bird, the whole deal left me feeling sort of bad. Whenever I hear a birder say "we had" a whatever bird, I think of this experience. Oh yeah, we "had" that rail alright, playing our little recording prank! I didn't like that then and don't now, so don't do it. It's rude behavior in my view. Would you like it if somebody pulled up to your house and bull-horned the message, to the whole neighborhood "your spouse thinks your'e a loser, I'm better than you are! Neener neener neener!", or whatever. Birds have enough problems without listening to that sort of crap .A real waste of their energy and time.
Well, to follow up on that warm cow plop of my birding ethics, how about those ducks!
Kah Tai Lagoon is a good place to see the fabulous Ruddy Duck right now. Despite years of viewing these stiff-tailed ducks, I've been missing out on critical details. The brilliant males right now, ruddy and blue-billed wonders, also sport two parallel comb-like feathery protuberances on their black crowns, which viewed from the right angle, give them sort of a "horny little devil" look. I never noticed that before.
I've also never seen, that I remember, the male Ruddy's mating display. They start bobbing their bright blue bills down towards the water, at an accelerating speed, and right at the end of this display the bill is vibrating so fast that it creates foam on the water in front of the bird. This ends with the male giving a little quack, or more like an ack. If properly trained (at Starducks) these guys could foam up your latte real good.
After watching the rail, and foaming ducks, I walked back up the hill, where I was thrilled to have a pair of California Quail run across the road right in front of me. My home base in Everett is not Quail country, and it's been a long time since I've seen any. They have called out in the morning a few times at my folks place lately. Love that topknot!
Jeff Gibsonrailing away, inPort Townsend WA

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