Lewin's Rail, Bicent Park and Call Playback

To: Tim Jones <>, birding aus <>
Subject: Lewin's Rail, Bicent Park and Call Playback
From: Peter Shute <>
Date: Tue, 20 Jan 2009 00:15:09 +1100
Does playback work well on Lewin's Rails anyway?  I never heard of anyone using 
it at Mt St Joseph pond (Melbourne).  I expect someone probably did, but I 
never heard any complaints that it was being done around other people

I can understand the temptation to use it with a bird like this, especially if 
you've already spent several hours waiting for one without success.  With 
playback you get some sort of instant result, even if they don't actually show 
- if they respond then you know they're there, if they don't then at least you 
can go home.

My experience with these birds at Mt St Joseph pond is that although luck plays 
a big part in it there are things you can do to improve or reduce your chances, 
so at the risk of teaching people how to suck eggs, here are some thoughts on 
this.  There are exceptions of course, but early morning and late evening are 
best.  But the most important thing I have found is that you need to keep 
scanning the edges constantly.

Here the birds seem to work their way moderately quickly up and down a stretch 
of territory 50 or 100m long, staying in the reeds but coming out here and 
there briefly for reasons best known to themselves (bypassing impenetrable 
vegetation I suspect).  The result is that they might be visible for 30 seconds 
every hour or so.  If you try to pass the time by having a good look at crakes 
and things then you could miss that 30 second opportunity every time.  The 
birds don't announce their arrival in the open - they normally move with sudden 
dashes, so they seem to just suddenly appear, then they go back in.

I also find that they're harder to see than you might expect. Even at 10m, 
unless they come right into the open, you can miss them altogether with the 
naked eye or perhaps only notice a movement.  This is especially true in low 
light.  By the time you've raised your binoculars the bird may be gone, or you 
only end up with a brief view.  I scan constantly with my binoculars, trying to 
cover all the likely muddy edges every 30 seconds to a minute, scanning without 
binoculars every few scans for a rest.  Note that they sometimes climb over or 
rest on top of dense clumps of vegetation, so it's worth a bit of a look there 
occasionally too.

The best ingredient for success is of course a location where the birds are 
known to be showing, and this Bicentennial Park site seems to be perfect.  
Hopefully the tips above will help someone see one.  This is what works for me 
in Altona and I'd be interested to hear how well it applies elsewhere.

Peter Shute

From:   On 
Behalf Of Tim Jones 
Sent: Monday, 19 January 2009 6:34 PM
To: birding aus
Subject: Lewin's Rail, Bicent Park and Call Playback

I agree, no need to interrupt its natural behaviour, harass or disturb it. 
You're either in luck or you're

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