The King Rail by April Raver
One hundred years ago, a young woman was standing along a dirt road in Geneva. She carried with her a camera weighing close to 40 pounds while she observed the birds and bugs and animals enjoying a crumbling fence along the edge of a field. When suddenly she heard a sound....
Fast forward one hundred years later, another young woman was standing alone along a dirt road in Geneva. She, too, carried a camera with her while she observed the butterflies and birds and animals along the edge of the fields and wetlands. When suddenly she, too, heard a sound....
"M-U-M-M-M-M" "GYCK!" "GYCK!" That's how Gene Stratton-Porter described that noise she heard that day so many years ago. She quickly made her way across the swamp to where she found a noisy bird calling among the reeds. Gene called her "The Queen."
Last weekend, it was I who stood along County Line Road, when I heard that same sound. I wasn't sure what it was...and I had a hard time finding words to describe it other than "LOUD!" After spending some time trying to locate the source of the sound, I was still confused. Thanks to today's technology I pulled out my cell phone and recorded a quick video of the voice as it echoed through the air. I posted it to my Facebook page and asked...."What is that loud noise!?!" I was fully expecting to be told "frogs" which seems to be the answer every time I get confused by a call I'm not sure of. But not this time! One of my birding friends quickly commented on my post that he was no expert but to him it sounded like a King Rail! A King Rail! I was surprised by that answer. I quickly googled "king rials" and listened to their call on All About Birds. Much to my surprise it sounded just like it! I shared my post to the Birding in Indiana Facebook page and asked...."Could it really be a king rail?" My phone started dinging immediately as people commented agreeing that it was indeed a king rail! The excitement on the post was electric. I text a birding friend who lives not too far from Limberlost and let him know what I was hearing. He headed that way.
The rail continued to call and I continued to try to see it! The call was so loud it was echoing across the fields creating an illusion of more than one bird. When my friend arrived, we could tell the bird was somewhere in the reeds along the creek bed. My friend friend noticed a path worn in the reeds where the rail appeared to travel back and forth along the bank. We stood quietly on the opposite bank, listened to the calls, and watched the moving reeds. Eventually the rail appeared in one of the openings at the water's edge. We both gasped! There it was! What a beautiful bird! Bright orange neck, long beak, big feet and the cutest little white bottom...a King Rail! We were able to watch the bird for a good while as it traveled back and forth along its little path in the reeds. We both took many pictures and a couple of videos before we left. As we went on down county Line Road for some more birding, we did indeed hear a second king rail about a quarter mile down the road from the first!
As I stood and watched that little rail wander in and out of the reeds, I couldn't help but think of Gene one hundred years ago. Was she caught in the same awestruck wonder, as I was that day? Did she notice how loud the call was? Did it echo against the fence posts as Gene listened? Did she appreciate what it was that she was observing?
When I stand on the edge of the Limberlost I always think of Gene and her swamp. As the killdeer yell while flying overhead and the blackbirds trill from the tip of every reed, I stand quietly and look around. After the rains, the swam is alive with water. Mallards, egrets, herons, mergansers, and teal play in the waters. Vultures and eagles ride the currents over head. Frogs sing from every corner and snakes slither by in the sunshine. Monarchs and dragonflies buzz across the grass. Did Gene stand in the same spot one hundred years ago and soak in the beauty much like I do today?
If you've never visited Limberlost Swamp, I encourage you to take the trip. Take a moment to walk down Deacon's Trail. Listen to nothing but the sound of the frogs and blackbirds. Let the wind blow your hair and the sun tan your skin. Notice the spots on the sandpiper and the lines on the dragonfly's wings. And if you hear a "M-U-M-M-M!" "GYCK!" "GYCK!" know that is just The Queen shouting "Limberlost Lives!"
Note: April Raver is a member of the Friends of the Limberlost, president of the Mississinewa Audubon Society, and volunteer for the annual SANJO Christmas Bird Count as well as other organizations.