Deb Marsh passed along a cool photo; one that I can't resist sharing. She was contacted by Steve Cothrel, the superintindent of Parks and Forestry for the City of Upper Arlington, about an odd bird that one of his employees had discovered. It was skulking in between a fence and trash can at one of the local parks in late September, and fortunately a decent digital photo was snapped.
Here's our rail, no doubt wishing he had access to a dense cattail stand, but making do with the available cover. This site is an a very urban area, and most of the suitable natural wetlands that once occurred in Upper Arlington and vicinity have long been destroyed.
Zoomed in a bit, so we can see that smooth gray cheek and peach-brown breast. Steve and company could certainly be excused for not knowing what this secretive marsh bird is. Relatively few people have had a chance to study rails well. Virginia Rails migrate at night, and it is amazing that most of them travel hundreds of miles between summer and winter haunts with their weak, fluttery flight.
Virginia Rails, and the other rail species, probably don't fly at very high altitudes during migration, and thus become vulnerable to striking buildings and other large, manmade objects that jut into the sky. When they turn up in a less than optimal habitat, like this bird, they also are at great risk to predators like cats. Not all potential rail predators are as well-trained, respectful, and gracious as THIS ONE. Rails prefer to run rather than fly when harried, and this can be a problem for them when they are out of their densely vegetated marshland habitat, where they hold the upper hand.
Here's hoping this Virginia Rail got along just fine, and is en route to wherever he needs to be.