The note I left on the kitchen counter read “Good morning! I’ve gone to the Frink Centre to look for Virginia Rails. Pets have been fed.”
It’s always a good idea to get up early if you want to see wildlife. That doesn’t mean I always do it. But Monday, I took off for the Frink Centre.
The HR Frink Centre is an outdoor education centre about 10 minutes north of Belleville, Ontario. It boasts woodland trails, and an extensive boardwalk through a marsh absolutely brimming with life.
I have been to the Frink Centre countless times with classes of children, age 5-14. It was always one of the highlights of the school year, and we were never disappointed. But going there early in the morning is a completely different experience. Early in the morning, the Frink Centre reveals its secrets.
All kinds of creatures are hiding in the cattails.
If you stop, and wait, life will eventually show itself.
As my note read, my real target for the morning was Virginia Rails. I had heard through Terry Sprague’s Quinte Area Bird Report that family groups of these elusive birds were frequently being spotted. Baby Virginia Rails? Oh my.
As I walked down the boardwalk I noticed my friend Kenzo and his little dog Gordie were already there. Kenzo goes to the Frink Centre a lot, with Gordie by his side. He knows where all the creatures hang out. So we waited together.
We watched a turtle.
Lots of frogs around too.
Even this black water snake.
Finally, from the edge of the marsh, we spotted some movement. A little black juvenile Virginia Rail! We remained very still as it made its way among the weeds, having its breakfast. They eat insects, insect larvae, fish, frogs, and small snakes.
You can see it is starting to grow in some of the rusty coloured feathers of an adult.
Speaking of whom, look who ran out onto the boardwalk! I was so thrilled to see her, as my only glimpse of Virginia Rails in the past have been them peeking out of dense reeds. They are notoriously secretive.
Virginia Rails have many adaptations that help them be so secretive. First of all, their feather patterns help them camouflage brilliantly. When nesting, they build “dummy nests” to throw off potential predators.
They are perfectly suited to live in their marsh habitat, with long toes, strong leg muscles, a laterally compressed body (they are skinny when viewed head-on) and extra-durable feathers on their foreheads to protect their heads when pushing through dense vegetation.
It was a really treat seeing Virginia Rails out in the open for the first time. Although Virginia Rails are fairly common, they are rarely seen. Worth getting up early for.
If you want a great morning walk, with guaranteed wildlife sightings, the Frink Centre boardwalk is a marvellous outing. Here’s a link to their site, with directions: