Date: 2/17/17 7:54 am
From: W MCCRADY <wmccrady...>
Subject: Bitterns & Rails in Nye County (long)
Greetings, Birders.

I went to Peterson Reservoir twice yesterday at Ash Meadows NWR, wanting to get some birding in before this storm makes access very difficult due to muddy roads. (Hopefully there will not be so much rain that it causes serious road damage!)

On a midday visit, the wind was bad enough we didn’t take the scope or camera with us. Still, we were able to pick out the few Cinnamon Teals in with loads of Green-wings, spot the partially leucistic female Ruddy Duck previously reported, and barely make out what looked like a female Goldeneye swimming with the Ruddies. One Violet-green Swallow whizzed by us after we’d watched some Tree Swallows over the reservoir. On our way out, a birder was heading in and asked us what we’d seen. He mentioned he’d had both bitterns in May and was hoping they might be out early. When we got back to the car, I saw that he had a Nevada license plate and asked my husband to wait a minute while I checked eBird’s May Least Bittern reports to see if I could figure out who the other birder was. By the time we’d done that and a few other things, the man was heading back from the trail. I asked about sightings and then asked if his name was Rob. He seemed a little taken aback that I had figured that out, but I explained how and we ended up having a wonderful chat about the joys of birding and sharing our sightings with others.

In honor of that conversation, I present my sightings from a second trip back out there in late afternoon with my scope and camera after the wind had calmed down. Full ebird checklist here:

My second trip out to Peterson Reservoir confirmed that there was a Goldeneye present. From the distant blurry photos I was able to get, I concluded it was most likely a Common based on Sibley’s article on identifying sleeping Goldeneyes by head shape. As I was getting ready to wrap up since the sun was setting, a symphony of sound began: Red-winged Blackbirds were the noisy prelude. A short time later, three American Bitterns joined in with their pumping sound. Two Ridgway’s Rails added a percussive beat with their incessant ‘kek’ calls. As if on cue, perhaps by the short call of a Least Bittern, all sound ceased completely and there was dead silence for about 15-20 seconds. Then the symphony started up again. This happened again about five minutes later.

Like a featured phrase in a symphony, Least Bitterns revealed themselves twice with their other call - descending owl-like coo-coo-coo-coo - over the next 10 minutes. Despite the performance, it was time to go, both because the refuge closes at sunset but also because the mosquitoes were coming out in force. After returning to the car and dosing myself with insect spray, though, I couldn’t resist walking up the trail a short ways for just a few more minutes. The blackbirds had quieted down to the occasional murmur and the bitterns were silent, but a pair of Pied-billed Grebes chattered a few times as a calling Ridgway’s Rail paced me along the trail from inside the cattails. A Virginia’s Rail further up the trail spoke up with its ‘kiddick kiddick’ call just to reassure me that the other calling rails were Ridgway’s. All in all, it was a marvelous performance, reminding me of the joy of birding.

Wendy McCrady
Amargosa Valley, NV
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