Readers’ wildlife photos

Today’s post shows three species of bird in the rail family (Rallidae), and comes from reader Paul Peed. Paul’s notes are indented.

This member of the Rail family is a Purple Gallinule (Porphrio martinica). It generally ranges in the southeastern US and throughout the Caribbean and Central America.  Remarkably, they have been reported in South Africa, Switzerland and Iceland in particularly dry or drought years. Beautiful coloration and flaming red eyes make this one of the most beautiful North American birds.

Purple Gallinule chick:

Sometimes heard but rarely seen is another member of the Rail family.  This is a King Rail (Rallus elegans).  The King Rail is the largest of the North American Rails.  Its numbers have declined by 90% in the last 50 years, putting it on the Yellow Watch List .
This guy was imaged in late May and was probably nearing the end of its month-long flightless period following its post-breeding molt.

The last rail in this set is the secretive and elusive Sora (Porzana carolina).  These guys forage amongst the bottoms of cattails and rushes. They very rarely show themselves as they dash from cattail to cattail.  Soras are very rarely seen, a real challenge to photograph, and are reported to be very tasty to eat.  Yet they are North America’s most abundant and widespread Rail.  Now that is successful camouflage!


  1. Paul Matthews
    Posted July 11, 2020 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Terrific photos of some very elusive birds!

    Most birders keep a list of birds they’ve recorded in their local area (or “patch” as it’s known in the UK). Heard-but-not-seen birds can be counted, although I’m sure most birders are like me and would much prefer to see them as well. There are 3 birds on my Ottawa, Canada, 2020 list that I have heard but been unable to see, and sure enough Sora is one of them (Least Bittern, another elusive marsh bird, and Wood Thrush, a bird of dense woods, are the others).

    I was intrigued that the photo of the King Rail (a species we don’t get in Ottawa) was taken in late May, near the end of the month-long flightless period post-breeding. Quite a few of our Ottawa breeding birds haven’t even arrived by late May. King Rails must breed very early in the year.

    • Paul Techsupport
      Posted July 11, 2020 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      Hi Paul,
      The Florida fresh water marsh breeding season is late January through early June. The summer months find the marshes in my central Florida patch nearly deserted save for Common Gallinules, Egrets and Herons (in reduced numbers). The heat is unbearable for man and beast.

      I am making an assumption about the King Rail and its molt. There seems to be a spike in King Rail sightings in my area in mid May. I was at a loss to explain this spike until I came upon the flightless period as a possible explanation.

      The Sora images are the result of a 3 hour stakeout of a 10 meter long stretch of perfect Sora habitat. A rich marsh edge with high cattails. Was delighted to see 3 individuals and get images of one. No perfect images but there is always next time.

      • Paul Matthews
        Posted July 11, 2020 at 10:27 am | Permalink

        Thanks Paul.

        I sometimes hear that Soras are easier to see than other rails. That’s not been my experience, although I’m sure they’re not as tough as impossible species like Yellow Rail and Black Rail.

  2. Joanne Dallas
    Posted July 11, 2020 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Sent from my iPad


  3. Posted July 11, 2020 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Great shots! If you’re up for geeking out a bit, what gear and settings did you use?

    • Paul Techsupport
      Posted July 11, 2020 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      Hi Patrick,
      King Rail was a surprise. Was set up for birds in flight specifically a Yellow-crowned Night Heron when that guy walked out of cover about 15 meters away. Nikon 850 500mmn f4 prime with 1.4x iii teleconverter Image was 1/1600 f7.1 iso 600. Ended up being a bit washed out but it was a complete surprise.

      Sora was same without teleconverter 1/1200 sec, iso very high if I recall correctly. Purple Gallinule was with teleconverter same camera and lens f/7 roughly.

      I am very much an amateur but am an old geek with a considerable budget

      • Patrick
        Posted July 11, 2020 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

        Your shots are excellent and I’m impressed that you’re willing to schlep around a lens the size of the 500mm.

        • Paul Techsupport
          Posted July 11, 2020 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

          The vast majority of my work is from marsh levee systems many of which are vehicle accessible. A good 70% of my work is from inside my vehicle. I don’t think I have ever schlepped the 500mm more than 25 meters from my vehicle. I use a 200-500mm for that kind of work. That setup is heavy enough.

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