Railing at Eagle Bluffs

By late April, waterfowl migrations are beginning to wind down at Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area, in central Missouri.  Nevertheless, there were a large number of ducks on the refuge when I visited yesterday morning; American coot, blue-winged teal and northern shovelers were most abundant, joined by hooded mergansers, wood ducks and lesser scaup.  Other sighting included great blue herons, American white pelicans (about 30), double-crested cormorants, Canada geese, belted kingfishers, yellowlegs, spotted sandpipers and two immature bald eagles.

But my goal on that cool, cloudy morning was to find rails, secretive residents of dense cattail marshes and other wetland habitats.  In Missouri, king rails and soras are summer residents while Virginia rails are primarily migrants through the State; though yellow rails and black rails might be encountered, they are very rare migrants in Missouri.  Most rails are best observed at dawn or dusk but they might also leave their vegetative cover on overcast days; even the most common species are more often heard than seen.

Unfortunately, my two hour effort was in vain.  But the hunt, however futile at times, is what draws birders to their "sport" and the shy nature of rails makes their pursuit even more challenging and enjoyable.  I'll try again in another week or so.