A very unusual “bird in the hand” – A rare encounter with Lewin’s Rail

All the chatter about National Bird Week this year got me thinking about some of my most interesting past bird encounters.

A younger version of yours truly, checking traps in similar habitat, back in about 2000.

Back in the days when I was regularly out and about surveying swamps around the South East of SA coast looking for the nationally endangered Swamp Antechinus (Antechinus minimus martimus), I occasionally got a surprise when checking the contents in the traps (in this case, small enclosed metal box traps, called Elliott traps – see photo of me checking one, for an indication of their size).

Typically the weight or weight distribution of the trap would alert you to the fact that something different was inside, even before taking a peek … and on rare occasions snakes, lizards and frogs would end up as unusual bi-catch as part of these mammal surveys.

So you can imagine my surprise back in April 2002, at what is now Lake St Clair Conservation Park near Robe, when I felt a distinct flapping sensation inside a trap – only to discover that I had caught a Lewin’s Rail (Lewinia pectoralis pectoralis).

This highly secretive bird prefers permanent, fresh-to-saline wetlands surrounded by dense vegetation; a habitat preference sometimes shared by the Swamp Antechinus. I discovered from speaking to a couple of bird experts at the time (from memory Graham Carpenter and our very own Bryan Haywood), that the species was definitely not normally encountered this way, or seen very often at all. So confirming identification “in the hand” was a real privilege!

Then amazingly, two years later at the same location in August 2004, history repeated itself … and I managed to get this nice sharp photo to prove it – before releasing my feathered friend back into the dense undergrowth!

“Bird in the Hand” – Lewin’s Rail in August 2004 at Lake St Clair Conservation Park. Photo: Mark Bachmann
Mark Bachmann