Hide and Seek

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Published on: Apr. 2, 2007

Last revision: Nov. 30, 2010

reached for my camera and fired away. The mating lasted for only a few seconds. When it was over and the birds had left, I worried whether I’d had them in focus or if there might have been a branch in front of them. My hands were shaking as I checked the LCD screen on the back of the camera. I scrolled through the images and was relieved to find that I’d gotten all I could hope for. I’d even captured some images I didn’t recall taking.

Next, the Nest

After my success with the mating birds, I decided to try to take pictures of a king rail nest and brood.

Female king rails lay an average of about 11 eggs. The eggs are a pale buff color with brown markings. Both adults incubate the eggs, which hatch in a little over three weeks. The chicks are downy black and leave the nest within a day after hatching. Adults feed them for a few days, but the chicks often stay with their parents for more than a month.

If king rails are hard to find, locating king rail nests is next to impossible. I returned to the area several more times searching for the nest or brood but never had any luck.

Then, almost by accident, Ron Bell, manager of Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Mound City, and I found what we thought to be a king rail nest. We weren’t sure because it had been more than 30 years since a king rail nest had been confirmed at the Squaw Creek refuge. But, as we stood in waist deep water wondering about our find, we heard the unmistakable call of a king rail. Then, a male and female king rail ran back and forth in front of us.

Ron marked the location of the nest with his GPS unit. When we checked it a week later, all the eggs were hatched and the brood was gone. We’re hoping the birds will return next year.

A few weeks later, Candy Chambers, assistant refuge manager at Clarence Cannon National Wildlife Refuge in Annada, called to tell me about a king rail brood she saw early that morning. I met with her that afternoon, and she took me to the brood right away.

I spent the next several hours observing and photographing an adult king rail and her four 2-week-old chicks foraging for food along a mud flat. In fact, I made many more trips during the next month to capture the birds with my cameras. After a few trips, they just seemed to ignore me and would feed, rest and bathe no more than 3 feet from me.

It wasn’t easy out there. Many days I spent 12 hours under the hot summer sun and under constant attack by mosquitoes and ticks. I got some unique pictures, though; and for a wildlife photographer, there’s no better reward.

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