Last Saturday, I was at Big Egg Marsh in Queens birding for a bit in the morning and then decided to head north with plans to bird the Bashakill region. I had spoken to friends Tom Burke and Gail Benson earlier and thought it was possible to meet up and bird with them at some point. Well I did meet with them but it was to chase a King Rail that was reported in Ulster County.
The King Rail would be a life bird for me and I wondered whether I had a chance at seeing it or would I have to be satisfied with hearing the bird. We decided to car pool and so I was riding with Tom and Gail when we made our first try for the Rail in Ulster County. We waited for over an hour and while we did not see the Rail, we heard it call several times. While doing our Rail watch, we picked up several good birds in the area including Common Gallinule and Least Bittern. On our way over to the Rail site we had received word of a Sandhill Crane being seen about a mile away from where we were and so we decided to give that a try. As luck would have it, we found the Sandhill Crane on a mowed lawn in someone's backyard. We watched this bird for a bit taking photos and video and marveled at the lucky resident who could claim a Sandhill Crane as a yard bird. Not as a fly over but as a bird feeding and resting in the backyard. Incredible!
After a short break for refueling we headed back to the Rail spot. Tom was hopeful that I would get a look since it was a lifer for me. We settled in for the long haul, joined by Deborah Kral and George Thompson (sp). Later we were joined by a neighborhood resident. By then, Deborah left to go looking for the Crane after I told her where to look. After over an hour, the King Rail called once then went silent; a few minutes went by and suddenly it called again but this time it sounded like it had moved closer. Tom and I began doing our best imitation of King Rail calls that we could and would you believe it, the bird moved even closer.
We did our imitation Rail call intermittently but for the most part remained quiet and listened and watched. The King Rail would go quiet and then suddenly let out a call and each time it sounded closer. It got to the point where the bird was so close it seemed it was right next to us, but none of us could see it. This went on for quite a while and then suddenly we saw something ahead of us which got flushed by a passing car. It was a rabbit who was contemplating crossing the road. While it was not the bird, I was encouraged because it meant we were being quiet enough for a bunny to venture out. About 10 minutes later after the King Rail calls had gone quiet, Rallus elegans walked out near where the rabbit had been earlier. I was almost afraid to breathe. But the King Rail seemed calm and was in no hurry as it took deliberate steps and sauntered across the road. There were smiles and handshakes all around, patience and perseverance had paid off. WE WERE KINGS FOR A DAY...ok Gail was a QUEEN :)!