May 21, 2016

Virginia Rails

When you visit the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in upstate New York, one of the first things you see along the wildlife drive is this marsh thick with cattails:

Here's a thermal infrared image focused on one part of the marsh:

Notice the white spot near the middle? (It's easier to see if you click above for an enlarged view.)
Zoomed in with a high-power lens, you see this:

It is the nest of a red-winged blackbird, with a female sitting on it.
Here's a short video of the same nest, taken with the ThermApp, but pay attention to the lower-left corner of the frame:

Did you notice a shape slinking away? That was a Virginia Rail, an elusive little bird that is seldom seen due to its secretive nature, skulking among thick marshland reeds. On this morning, with help from my ThermApp thermal camera, I was finally able to photograph one:

Here is a longer infrared video, with two clips showing the Virginia Rail in action:

I'm not sure if you noticed, but in the "chase scene", the camera focus actually switched from bird #1 to bird #2; after the chase, we're watching bird #2 forage while bird #1 is grunting from off-screen (somewhere to the right). I hadn't noticed this switch myself when taking the video in the field.

BTW, if you're a birder, you may have noticed some interesting species singing in the background, including Willow Flycatcher and Blackpoll Warbler.

Here's another photo of a virginia rail, this I believe is a different bird from the first photo above.

This all happened around 11am on a day with medium-overcast skies and ambient temperatures at around 60F (15C). While there was a fair number of other warm spots in the surroundings (cattail spikes, sticks), the birds still showed up quite clearly and could be easily tracked.