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Water Rail knack?

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Old Tuesday 23rd March 2010, 13:17   #1
alexcropper83
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Water Rail knack?

Is there a knack to finding water rails? I've been tearing my hair out trying to find a couple that have been at my local patch this week. I see other more experienced birders seem to find them with no trouble at all. Is it a subtle movement in the reeds or just more luck?

Cheers, Alex
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Old Tuesday 23rd March 2010, 13:21   #2
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Originally Posted by alexcropper83 View Post
Is there a knack to finding water rails? I've been tearing my hair out trying to find a couple that have been at my local patch this week. I see other more experienced birders seem to find them with no trouble at all. Is it a subtle movement in the reeds or just more luck?

Cheers, Alex
Knowing their calls, so you at least know the direction to look ( within 90 degree's )
Being quiet and still, patience, and luck. Lots and lots of luck!

Unless you go to somewhere where they hang out under feeders, like at my local patch!
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Old Tuesday 23rd March 2010, 13:37   #3
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Possibly a bit late in the year, but if you know where they live (having heard them, or others having seen them) then visit those locations on very cold winter days. When the water freezes they'll come out of their reedy hiding places and can be easily seen.

A few years back I took a friend to WWT Arundel. I'd told her me may stand a chance of seeing a Water Rail as everything was frozen and that we'd be very lucky if we did see one as they're normally so shy and secretive. The place was crawling with them. Every footpath had a couple of Water Rails, all of whom ignored the people. One walked across my boot as we were watching another. My reputation as a semi-expert was more than slightly tarnished that day. Now she gets the darn things turning up in her back garden.
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Old Tuesday 23rd March 2010, 14:59   #4
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A few years back I took a friend to WWT Arundel. I'd told her me may stand a chance of seeing a Water Rail as everything was frozen and that we'd be very lucky if we did see one as they're normally so shy and secretive. The place was crawling with them. Every footpath had a couple of Water Rails, all of whom ignored the people. One walked across my boot as we were watching another. My reputation as a semi-expert was more than slightly tarnished that day. Now she gets the darn things turning up in her back garden.
Almost my experience with them at Arundel this winter for me. Not quite that many, but they do get a few that get very used to humans there and just seem to be oblivious to us. Was great!
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Old Tuesday 23rd March 2010, 15:09   #5
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If you ever cross the Pennines in winter stake out the feeders at Potteric Carr in South Yorks during the winter and you're guaranteed stunning views with a little patience. There are many other sites near me that have water rail, but they're buggers to see in all but the harshest weather, and if you can find somewhere where they're attracted to feeding stations it basically does the work for you.

I'm sure there's some locations nearer you that others will know.
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Old Tuesday 23rd March 2010, 15:13   #6
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my advice is also to go to potteric carr when theres a hard freeze and look at the feeders.

the other option is 40 years of staring at a reed bed hoping one might toddle out.
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Old Tuesday 23rd March 2010, 17:51   #7
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Originally Posted by alexcropper83 View Post
Is there a knack to finding water rails?.......................................I see other more experienced birders seem to find them with no trouble at all.
Are these other birders seeing them, or just reporting them as being there?

They may well be "heard only".
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Old Tuesday 23rd March 2010, 18:10   #8
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As you live in Cheshire, try Inner Marsh Farm, one of my old stomping grounds, usually stonking views to be had there. The bunting hide at Pennington is good too, but as someone has already pointed out, perhaps a little late in the year. Listen for the sound like a piglet having its goolies scrunched.
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Old Tuesday 23rd March 2010, 19:24   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by alexcropper83 View Post
Is there a knack to finding water rails? I've been tearing my hair out trying to find a couple that have been at my local patch this week. I see other more experienced birders seem to find them with no trouble at all. Is it a subtle movement in the reeds or just more luck?

Cheers, Alex
Its a combination of luck and skill i'm afraid. Knowing where to look but also standing and waiting for them to appear. The call is a pig like squeal. I've sent you a PM.

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Originally Posted by hollis_f View Post
Possibly a bit late in the year, but if you know where they live (having heard them, or others having seen them) then visit those locations on very cold winter days. When the water freezes they'll come out of their reedy hiding places and can be easily seen.
The colder weather tends to make it easier for us to see them.

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Originally Posted by John P View Post
Are these other birders seeing them, or just reporting them as being there?

They may well be "heard only".
Both records are sight records. Funny although I see the birds at this site (where it is a rarity), I rarely hear them calling.

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Originally Posted by Stephen Fletcher View Post
As you live in Cheshire, try Inner Marsh Farm, one of my old stomping grounds, usually stonking views to be had there.
Would agree with IMF at the end of last summer had several birds right in front of the hide and got my best ever photos of Water Rail.

CB
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Old Tuesday 23rd March 2010, 20:02   #10
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Listen for the sound like a piglet having its goolies scrunched.


I've only ever had three sightings despite spending a good amount of time in areas where they breed. Two of those were flushed birds in flight too.

Sitting quietly and unobtrusively beside a reedbed with extensive muddy fringes is probably your best bet. All the birds Ive seen have been on the edges of reedbeds though in two cases they obviously saw me before I saw them. Just keep visiting marshy places and you'll come across one eventually.

Unless there is a big freeze or they appear under feeders as other posters have said.
Good luck.
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Old Tuesday 23rd March 2010, 21:13   #11
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Hi,

I spent many hours trying to see them. Just tips:

-using i*** is a sure way, but I will not advertise using the darned thing for those who I am unsure know how to deal with it. Especially if it is area which sees disturbance of regular birders.
- as others said, freeze-up is the best, when they will run around unfrozen pools outside the cover. I saw three at the same pool this winter.
- otherwise, try large mudflats or wet sand bordering reedbeds. Sort of drained fishponds, overgrown estuaries, sewage farms, drained reservoirs etc. Water rails (and crakes, if you are lucky) will walk out from reeds on the mud. Often scoping helps.
-listen to calls, especially repeated short metallic alarm call 'pik!' in the reeds just near mud. Sooner or later the darned thing will be seen moving behind reeds.
-watch over wide muddy area with your bins, or look behind the first line of reeds.
-rails will walk right to your feet if you are absolutely immobile. They will however run blindly into reeds at any movement or sound, even eg. Snipe landing nearby. Also, I never seen one crossing dry path between reedbeds.

- One don't: don't waste time on staring where ditches cut reedbeds, or reedbeds border deeper water. Rails never show up there, even if they call just a meter away.

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Old Wednesday 24th March 2010, 10:34   #12
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Hi,


-listen to calls, especially repeated short metallic alarm call 'pik!' in the reeds just near mud. Sooner or later the darned thing will be seen moving behind reeds.

I always thought of these as contact calls rather than alarm calls!

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Hi,

Also, I never seen one crossing dry path between reedbeds.
They do this quite freqently at my local patch, also they go into a waterlogged meadow and explore under brambles quite often too.
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Old Wednesday 24th March 2010, 11:37   #13
Matt Prince
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"I've been tearing my hair out trying to find a couple that have been at my local patch this week"

Finding out exactly where they have been seen might help. If they are resident at your patch then just keep scanning the reed margins on a regular basis - i.e. a couple of times each visit. Eventually you'll catch one wandering along the edge. Try a visit in the evening as water rail activity often picks up then.
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Old Friday 26th March 2010, 00:10   #14
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I always thought of these as contact calls rather than alarm calls!
Don't know - I have no access to BWP now.
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Old Monday 29th March 2010, 13:35   #15
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It seems you have to be a bit lucky to see one of these elusive little critters. There appears to be no particular method in enticing them out to show themselves in my experience. Long cold snaps of weather often bring them out into the open more. They are more often heard than seen. On my local patch I hear them regularly in the bogs, but in 8 years of living here I have only had 4 sightings.

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Old Monday 29th March 2010, 17:40   #16
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The two times I've seen them it's been purely down to luck - first time a couple drew my attention to a Mink in a ditch and looking along the ditch we saw a Water Rail skulking in the reeds, second time I was in a hide at Two Tree Island with a friend who'd taken me to see the place for the first time. He suggested I might want to have a look in the other hide while he counted birds and in the other hide a Rail came out of the reeds for a little while. I didn't hear calls either time.

There do seem to be places that you can go to greatly increase your chances as already said so it's really down to spending some quality time visiting those places until you get lucky.
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Old Wednesday 30th June 2010, 19:34   #17
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Just a postscript. I saw one yesterday. All i had to do was travel to vane farm in scotland to volunteer, trapse through a marsh flushing snipe whilst wearing chest waders and make sure the only bird you succesfully flush is a water rail! So i got the hard middle of summer sighting out the way, now for winter.
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Old Thursday 1st July 2010, 05:14   #18
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Congrats Alex, virtue has its own reward.
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Old Sunday 15th August 2010, 14:47   #19
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I got my first one this week at Baron's Haugh. Its a regular spot for them, but its taken my 3 years!! Thanks to the guy with the scope and the keen eye.
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Old Sunday 15th August 2010, 18:38   #20
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Had two birds calling at Red Rocks Marsh on the Wirral today but they are virtually impossible to see there.

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Old Thursday 19th August 2010, 22:49   #21
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I was at Rutland Water on wednesday, watching the ospreys and 2 Water Rails were showing really well in front of Waderscrape Hide.

They are quite often seen in the edges of the clearings in the reed bed. The last couple of years, there have been excellent sightings of a Water Rail family, which has raised youngsters - often venturing out into view from the hide.

It doesn't really help with the original question, but Waderscrape is definitely one of the better places to see them. (I suspect this weekend with the hides heaving due to the Bird Fair, might be an exception!)
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Old Friday 20th August 2010, 05:39   #22
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Superb photos - lucky you to see a Rail with its young!
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