An Unexpected Harvest Yolo Bypass WA 8/23 Black Rail

Joan Humphrey

Hi all,

        At mid morning 23 August, I was in the YBWA at Rice Point, hoping to observe harvesting of wild rice.  I noticed a large number of egrets gathered in newly harvested cell and moved to the harvest ongoing in next cell east. After studying the three harvesters making clockwise loops from outer side of cell to inner, I noticed birds being flushed out. Switching my attention to birds, I watched Coots and Song Sparrows come out by ones and twos from the wet, marshy vegetation.
        As a harvester made a pass close to me, 50' to 60' away, out flushed a faintly familiar, near sparrow sized bird, all dark and blackish that strongly flew halfway towards me at low height and dove into row of new made stubble. While flying noted lack of long bill, general shape and mostly the tail end of bird as I commented to myself "how cool, it's a tiny rail". By the time I called out its name, a second Black Rail flushed, flew low and vanished, also halfway to me. Serendipity indeed. The last bird out was an immature Sora that flew past me and was twice the size of the smaller rails.
        It'd been awhile since I'd last watched Black Rails fly. It invoked memories of coastal levees, super high rail tides, and sometimes flying rails pursued by hungry herons. This encounter certainly had the feel of a high tide event, complete with encroaching egrets. But here the strong pressure needed to flush Black Rails came from multiple harvesters rather than rising waters. Also like after a high tide, I would assume any surviving Black Rails vanish until the next disturbance event.
        I've since made two other trips to YBWA to see what variety of birds wild rice at harvest might show, but the harvesters were not active on those days.  It's too much to call it a birding technique, but if you ever closely encounter harvesters working in wet, wild rice, I'd suggest taking a good look.

Good birding,

Joan Humphrey
Davis, CA