Ian’s Bird of the Week – Spotless Crake

Spotless Crake (Porzana tabuensis) by Ian

Spotless Crake (Porzana tabuensis) by Ian

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Spotless Crake ~ by Ian Montgomery

Newsletter – 10/11/11

There’s no doubt as to what is currently the Bird of the Week in Townsville: the discovery of this Spotless Crake in a small patch of reedy grass beside Ross River just below Aplin’s Weir is causing great excitement. They’re rare here and the birder who circulated the news, thank you Marlene, could find only 5 records in Townsville since 1994, the last one being in 2000. Not having photographed one before, I got up at 5:40am this morning to have a second attempt at photographing it (it wasn’t very cooperative yesterday afternoon) and there was universal agreement that this was a noteworthy event as I’m famously not an early riser.

Spotless Crake (Porzana tabuensis) by Ian

Spotless Crake (Porzana tabuensis) by Ian

In fact, the Crake wasn’t very cooperative this morning either, making only 3 brief appearances between 6:30 and 9:00am, really brief with the longest period between the first and last photo in a session being 6 seconds. It was definitely a question of using a tripod mounted camera focussed on its chosen spot. If you compare the first and second photos, taken 40 minutes apart, and look for the semicircular reed stem sticking out of the water near its bill, you’ll see that it was in almost exactly the same place on both occasions.
If you look in the background, you can see an out-of-focus and much larger Buff-banded Rail that was around at the same time, but completely overshadowed by its rarer cousin. The rail was much more forthcoming, and regularly paraded in full view to have its photo taken (at the risk of missing an appearance by the real star) as in the third photo.
Buff-banded Rail (Gallirallus philippensis) by Ian

Buff-banded Rail (Gallirallus philippensis) by Ian

For comparison Spotless Crakes are 17-20cm/6.7-8in in length, while Buff-banded Rails are 28-33cm/11-13in. The names ‘crake’ and ‘rail’ are used taxonomically somewhat indiscriminately for these small secretive members of the Rallidae. For example, the Hawaiian and St Helena Rails belong to the same genus as most of the Australian Crakes (Porzanus). Still on names, it’s very unusual for birds to be named after features they lack, such as spots. In the Birdlife International list of birds of the world, about 10,000 species, I could find only 9 that are something-less: 2 are crestless, 3 are flightless, 2 are spotless and, prizewinner for strange names, the Northern and Southern Beardless Tyrannulets. I didn’t count Restless Flycatcher and the other spotless is the Spotless Starling.

Best wishes

Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Phone: 0411 602 737 +61-411 602 737
Preferred Email: ian@birdway.com.au
Website: http://birdway.com.au

Lee’s Addition:

Sounds like Ian’s Spotless Crake was the talk of the town, at least of the birder’s. I love the way Ian shows so much patience while he is out birdwatching. Most of us would give up and miss these neat photos. Thanks, Ian, for your patience.

That second bird, the Buff-banded Rail, is also a resident at the Lowry Park Zoo. I have been privileged of see it on vary rare occasions. The bird was hidden very well.

But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. (Romans 8:25 KJV)

Buff-banded Rail (Gallirallus philippensis) by Lee at Lowry Pk Zoo

Buff-banded Rail (Gallirallus philippensis) by Lee at Lowry Pk Zoo


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