I was up and out the door early last Saturday with a single goal in mind: to locate a Mecklenburg County sora. These birds are members of the rail family, a group of chicken-like birds that are fairly common but usually difficult to locate. They live in marshes where the vegetation is thick and access can be nearly impossible for birders. Rails do not breed in Mecklenburg County, but several species do pass through during migrations.
Fortunately, rails are a vocal lot. They can often be induced to sound off with a taped playback of their calls. They are not nearly as vocal inland as they are at the coast, but with persistence a birder can find soras and Virginia rails in the county at the right time of year. With this knowledge, I first hit the Kirk Farm Field boardwalk off Mallard Creek Church Road. This is a nice boardwalk that carries you through a nice cattail marsh. But apparently the marsh is not nice enough for soras.
Next up was the Renaissance Park complex off Tyvola Road. There is a series of small wetlands there with nice cattails and other wetland vegetation. Again, two spots failed to turn up a sora.
The third marsh was the largest and most promising. I played the calls for about 15 minutes with no luck. Every other marsh bird in those weeds responded, however. I induced a marsh wren, another nice bird to find in the county, to check me out along with several common yellowthroats, red-winged blackbirds, swamp sparrows and song sparrows.
Never miss a local story.
I shut off the tape and decided to wait a few more minutes. Experience has taught me to give rails a bit of time to respond, and sure enough, after about five minutes a robust peep came out of the weeds. And then another, and then another. A sora was indeed present and was looking for the now-silent visitor. I even heard it sloshing around almost at my feet, but it never showed itself.
It is always satisfying when a purposeful search for a bird is successful. Also satisfying was that it was species number 191 for my Mecklenburg County 2014 List.