The highlight of teen banding camp came on Thursday when the students flushed a Sora Rail out of the marsh that chanced to fly up toward the camp and tried to hide among some dark Ponderosa trunks. Everyone sprang into action to encircle the tree and trap the odd bird. But the Sora was quick. It flew off, blowing right past several hands that shot out to meet it. We made a mad dash after it.
The rail made a bad choice, though, flying uphill into thick vegetation near our tents. Hot on its tail, I thought, “Think like a rail, think like a rail!” as it suddenly vanished passing the tents. “Surround the tent, surround the tent!” I yelled, once I realized that it must have disappeared under the tent where it was dark and secretive. There it was, flat like roadkill, once we lifted one of the edges of the tent. But then it gave us the slip again, dashing back down toward the marsh. But there was one more roadblock in its way–a huge ponderosa log, where August managed to snag it as it raced along the length of it, not quite able to sneak out underneath it.
The Sora was a first for banding camp, though we had spent several hours trying to catch Soras and Virginia Rails with nets and walk-in traps, as they seem to be surprisingly numerous in the vegetation at the lake. This year we even saw flightless Virginia Rail chicks at the Lake, indicating that they breed there, at 3400′ a pretty high nesting record for this species. This Sora was a young bird, hatched this summer. It had already gone through its partial fall molt, during which it lost its juvenile plumage, leaving a subtle molt limit in its wing. Look for the contrast between the inner greater coverts and the remaining two outermost greater coverts over the secondaries: the two outers are retained juvenile feathers, duller in color and not as glossy in sheen.