Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Rail Ways

The water rail  is a bird I haven't really dwelt on that much before. But then, have you? They pop up now and again if you regularly visit reedy ponds and lakes but the views are usually not great.

I spent an hour or so at Gosforth Park nature reserve on the north side of Newcastle the other day and this obliging water rail put in an appearance and kept me entertained for a good five minutes - probably the longest water rail show I've seen.  They have always seemed slightly absurd to me - made up of random bits shoved together like one of those kid's card games.  Yet given a prolonged decent view like this they are surprisingly attractive in a subtle kind of way.  (For much better photos than I could manage zoomed on a compact digital in rubbish light, I recommend the last two shots on this post from JR and Sue's blog.)

Mostly, this one did what it says in the books and crept in and crept out again, but every now and then it had a spell of mania, leaping vertically and flapping wildly, before jumping about from side to side.  Then, as if coming to its senses, it got a grip and flipped back into skulk mode.  I wonder what that was all about?

That there is more to water rails than first meets the eye is illustrated in a great series of photos of two birds having a real ding-dong of a fight on the Bird Guides web site


  1. They're certainly weird birds. I've seen them perching in trees on a couple of occasions at Low Barns Reserve at Witton-le-Wear .... maybe they do that for a change of scenery. Who knows what goes on in a water rail's head.......?

  2. Extraordinary. I've never seen that - it would be a branch rail way then I suppose.
    Funnily enough, while I was at Gosforth Park I was pondering on other birds that don't look right in trees so might post on that later.

  3. Strange bird in way. I can't imagine them up a tree though!

  4. Hi Steve. Me neither but Phil swears its true...

  5. There is definitely something odd about their porportions, something a bit kiwi-like, as if they are in the process of becoming flightless...

    The water rail is one of my 'bogey birds' - hopefully this year, if I visit the Tay marshes during the summer, I'll get a chance to see one!

    I'm told they make a sound 'like a squealing pig'?

    I'm adding the water rail mud-fight to my favourites list! :)

  6. Hi Theresa. Yes, I went for years without seeing one too. I've never heard one squealing but then I wouldn't be surprised if they did. Bit of a dark horse the water rail... Thanks for tuning in.