Teddy Roosevelt would not have approved of Virginia Rails. For one thing, they speak loudly — so loudly, in fact, that if you’re sitting on your camp stool within a meter or two of a Virginia Rail when it lets loose a cry, it will blow your hair back.
A second reason our bully president would have disliked Virginia Rails is that they fail to carry big sticks. In fact, rails are without defensive weaponry of any kind. To avoid predators, they must skulk and hide in the reeds and cattails of their marshy homes.
But yesterday I met a rail whom even Teddy could love. I was sitting on my camp stool at the edge of Main Pond, watching the clouds and the ducks drift by, absorbing the peace that the Fill grants so profligately. Suddenly, a Virginia Rail a few feet away gave a tremendous screech, causing me to set a world’s record in the sitting broad jump.
When I had come back down to roost, I saw a tiny, reddish-brown body poised at the edge of a bush. The rail was glaring at me. Or at least, it seemed to. With rails it’s hard to tell. They have a white eyebrow immediately above their eye, and black feathers below, giving them a dyspeptic look, like an old curmudgeon about to raise his fist and yell, “You kids get off my lawn!”
In this case, the rail clearly did want me to get off its lawn. It was carrying a worm that it meant to give to its baby, who must have been waiting in the bushes on the other side of the clearing. I was right in the middle of the path, blocking the way.
As I wondered how it would get around this boulder in its life, it came running out a few steps, changed its mind, and dashed back into cover. Then it tried sneaking out slowly, but when it saw I was watching, back it went into the bush. Next, it gave another ear-piercing screech. When that failed to remove this obstacle that was me, it screwed up all its courage and marched across the clearing, holding tightly onto its worm. Before it disappeared into cover again, it gave me one last look. I got the message and got off its lawn. Courage and curmudgeonliness like that deserve our respect.