Rails are fond of dense vegetation associated with marshy wetlands. Fortunately, rails can often be induced to sound off, thereby giving their presence away. Its another matter to actually get to see one though. There are some warblers that can be hard to see too. However, the champions of the skulkers are the grassland sparrows of the genus Ammodramus. In our area they are the grasshopper, LeConte’s, and Henslow’s sparrows.
Recently I joined a group of local birders in a search for a previously reported Henslow’s sparrow at the prairie portion of Latta Plantation and Nature Preserve. The Henslow’s sparrow takes skulking to a new level. They are small, love a dense ground cover, would rather run than fly, and flush from under your feet. It’s like trying to get a look at a mouse in dense grass. We knew the chances of one person finding it on their own was virtually impossible, so a group of eight birders coordinated the search. Two and a half hours later, no bird. We all fanned out for one last search that came up golden. As is typical, a small sparrow flushed from the feet of one of the searchers. The landing spot was marked and three birders tried to surround the unseen sparrow in the dense grass. They were able to confirm the bird was indeed the Henslow’s, then called everyone else’s cell phone with the good news.
Eventually eight birders had this bird pinned down and surrounded in a 10-foot square area. Still no sighting. We tightened the circle even more and finally the prize scurried into view. We were all literally four feet from the bird but no one ever got a full view of it. Finally, the bird did flush, and the scenario replayed. The bird finally tired of the game and after a few more flushes decided to run instead of fly. Still, it was a thrill to see the bird in Mecklenburg County where it had been almost 60 years since the last one was recorded in the county. It was a Life Bird for some, and of course, a County Bird for everyone.