Hide and Seek
evening after a long day of rain, I sat concealed in smartweed playing my electronic calls.
I started by calling every 10 seconds, then I switched to every 30 seconds. It was quiet, but then suddenly a bird responded with “kek, kek, kek, jupe, jupe, jupe.”
I grabbed my camera and aimed toward the sound. All I could see was thick vegetation.
As I searched, the bird called again, but this time the sound was much louder. I turned my head and saw a male king rail standing no more than 3 feet behind me.
I froze for fear of spooking the bird. It pecked around nearby, even investigating my camera backpack. A female bird later showed up, then the pair chased one another off into the tall vegetation.
I was mad at myself for not being prepared. Because I hadn’t seen king rails the other times, I’d become lax and wasn’t set up and ready for when they finally did appear. In my years of photographing wildlife, this was by far my most embarrassing moment.
Although they never got that close again, the birds circled around and called for the next two hours, and I was able to capture my first king rail images.
Caught in the Act
Now that I knew the pair’s location, I was eager to return. I was optimistic that, if properly set up, I could get some good pictures. After all, not only had I not spooked the king rails, they seemed to completely ignore my presence, even when they had been at my feet.
That’s why, three days later—my first opportunity—I was watching the sun rise at the very same spot.
I played my electronic call for 30 minutes with no response. I was thinking I might be wasting my time, when I was startled by a splash of water. A king rail was swimming directly toward me.
It certainly wasn’t a wasted morning. I had the bird in front of me for hours. The rail wasn’t bothered by me as long as I didn’t make sudden movements. When I slid through the mud or adjusted my camera angle, the rail would retreat into the smartweed a little ways, but she’d soon come back out again.
After a while, I was observing the bird more than I was taking pictures. As I watched, she suddenly stopped moving. Seconds later a male bird approached from behind, and the female lowered her head in a submissive pose.