Photo: Mike Mandracchia
Yesterday, I was there very early before I was supposed to do something else for the day. I'd heard about the two rail species that had been reported there for the last few days, but I thought only one was a real possibility. Of course, neither was, and I left disappointed.
This morning I birded FREC and Colliers Mills with Mike and after lunch, he had somewhere else to be and since I was already halfway to Mercer Corporate Park, I decided to try again. Looking at the eBird reports, I was surprised to see that the King Rail was calling and showing mid-day. King Rails are very rare in New Jersey and the last one I knew about was controversial, possibly a hybrid (with Clapper Rail) up in Bayonne. I like rarities, but I'm not driving to Bayonne for one. King Rails are also usually heard at night or pre-dawn. This one must be particularly desperate to be grunting and "kekking" all day.
Still, I didn't expect to find or hear it. My modest goal was to find the Common Gallinule that was in the first pond (site of so many cool birds: Barnacle Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose, Red Phalarope!). Ironically, while this bird isn't listed as "rare" in Mercer County, it should be.
I parked the car across from the first pond, which aside from some low reeds is clear of vegetation obstruction and saw only geese. I walked the length of the pond (not very big) and then around its north end, looking in the reeds for the gallinule with no luck, for the 2nd day. As I walked back to the roadway another birder pulled up and was scanning the far edge. It turned out to be, happily for me, Scott, with Linda in the passenger seat. Linda had seen the bird earlier, but Scott had missed it, so they were trying again. I asked, ruefully, about the King and Scott said, oh it was just calling a few minutes again. He said to follow them to the other pond, about 1/4 mile from where we were and before I was even out of the car I heard the King Rail calling at 2:30 PM. Pretty amazing. This was only the 2nd King Rail I've heard. The previous one was at Brig with Mike, calling along the Gull Pond road. I made a recording, which wasn't very good because of the wind roar, and we returned to the first pond to find the supposedly easier bird.
It took a half hour or so but the gallinule finally emerged from the reeds and gave us decent looks and distant photos. It took me 10 times longer to find the supposedly easy bird than the rarity. Of course, it helps to know people who know.
King Rail was one of the few birds I have on my list that Shari didn't, so after dinner tonight, we decided drive over there. Mike was still there and was texting us reports as we drove up Rt 539 and through Allentown. "Faster Shari, faster, faster." When we arrived Mike was there with a group of other birders, and, as in the afternoon, the King Rail was loud and vociferous! Shari could have turned around then and ticked off the bird for her life list, but we hung around trying to actually see the bird. Of the 6 or 7 other birders there, including Shari & Mike, everyone of them, at some point, said, "There it is," or "I see it" and then described some piece of reed with a twig behind it and the opening to the right and if I'd only look there except the bird was moving to the left and now look over this bush behind the bluish-green reeds the bird is facing right and I would see it! Mike left (it was probably too painful for him to watch me floundering for a sighting) and Shari was freezing, but I was determined to see this bird (and nightfall was an hour away) when finally, finally, it scurried out of the reeds into a big patch of mud and ran back into the phragmites and I had my look, the first King Rail I've ever seen and I may not ever see another.
We drove around to the first pool and made a desultory attempt for the gallinule but it wasn't showing and Shari doesn't care that much about her year list so we left. Shari had her lifer, I had my look and what a great way to finish the weekend.