Yellow Rail, Swamp Sparrow at Waldo's Dike
Kelly and I birded Point Reyes for a few days, arriving on December
29 to be in position for the three high tides, and returning today.
Our first afternoon (12-29) we birded Limantour Beach, finding a
EURASIAN WIGEON about halfway down the sheltered side of the spit.
The next morning (12-30) we previewed Waldo's Dike, finding other
birders already searching for Rails in the raised section beyond the
concrete dam. We joined them and continued for a hundred yards or so
until we began to make the our way toward the right turn. We saw a
total 4 BLACK RAILS that morning, mostly in flight, as well as a
VIRGINIA RAIL, hundreds of RED PHALAROPES, 2 HERMIT WARBLERS that
foraged near the barbed wire gate, a SWAMP SPARROW, and a small flock
of HEERMAN'S GULLS heading toward Tomales Point. Driving rains forced
us to leave just at the peak of the tide and the trail was completely
wet, but still intact. We drove toward the outer point, finding many
roads already experiencing mudslides so we decided to call it an
The following day (12-31) we returned to Waldo's about three hours
BEFORE the peak of the tide because we could see from the hotel that
the flood waters were already pushing water levels higher than the
day before. Many mudslides made passage difficult from Inverness and
impossible from anywhere before Inverness Park. At the dike the water
was already breeching the concrete wall and we could not pass as we
had before, in fact, to do so seemed quite dangerous as the water was
rushing in at a very fast rate! No one else was present unfortunately
because we saw a total of 6 more BLACK RAILS some in flight, others
dashing into cover on the ground to escape the Egrets. Fortunately we
did not see any fall victim to the hungry predators, but there were
many small mammal casualties. One Black rail crossed the trail just
15 feet ahead of us and paused for us to admire for what seemed an
eternity, but in reality was probably no more than 10-15 seconds.
We were still on the first section of the trail, just yards from the
barbed wire fence when from just 5 feet from our boots a pale colored
Rail flushed up, flew along our side and crossed the trail behind us,
closer to the gate. We watched as it flew into cover again and
noticed the large white secondary feathers. It was a YELLOW RAIL!
For the next 10 minutes we walked slowly, crouched and tried to view
the bird again. Kelly and I separated to increase the search area
when she saw it again, very near where it had flushed from earlier.
As I struggled to find exactly where she was focusing, she quietly
gave me directions. Apparently, it had somehow worked its way back
without us seeing it cross the trail and now stood there on the trail
edge, completely exposed save for its cryptic coloration which made
it virtually invisible until we saw it move its head. Finally, I got
a look at it and we both had it in our binoculars. We noticed the
heavy golden and black stripes on the back and dark facial patch, and
then, an instant later, it flew. This time, the golden straw-
coloration was even more striking against the muddy water and the
white squares on the trailing edge of both wings were positively
blazing. It took cover in the dense tangle of tree roots and fallen
branches parallel to the road. Again, we searched, hoping to see it
again, but it did not reappear.
After that excitement we were able to drive out to Chimney Rock and
scoped a RED-NECKED GREBE in Drakes bay from the road before the
parking area. What a day!