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Eastern or Western Water Rail?

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  • Eastern or Western Water Rail?

    Dear all,
    The images attached are of a Water Rail taken this week in the Olympic Forest Park, Beijing. The bird is wintering in a small area of reeds but, despite the relative lack of cover, it has taken me three attempts to see it. When it does show, as you can tell from the images, it shows well..

    This is my first Water Rail in China, so I have zero experience of Eastern (indicus) but there are suggestions that this bird could be a Western. It lacks the contrasting face pattern of 'indicus' and the undertail coverts are clean. Also, the underparts are very grey/blue and do not have a brownish wash as Eastern should show.

    I do not have the "Rails" book by Taylor and van Perlo but I understand that one subspecies of Western - korejewi - may actually breed in western China, which would make, especially first winters, not unlikely to reach eastern China. As with many Chinese birds, I suspect the status of Western is unknown and, even now, hardly anyone here looks at Water Rails!

    Are there any Rail experts out there who could offer some thoughts?

    Thanks in advance, Terry

    PS There are some more images - and some helpful comments by Ken Tucker - on my blog at www.birdingbeijing.com
    Attached Files

  • #2
    This is an obvious Western Water Rail based on the features you mention. Structurally, Western and Eastern (or as it called by the IOC Brown-cheeked Rail - a terrible name!) are quite different. Eastern is very stocky, has short rather thick looking legs and a stouter bill. Structurally it looks more like a Slaty-breasted Rail Gallirallus striatus than a Western Water Rail. Western does indeed breed in Xinjiang and the are historical records from eastern China (mainly from la Touche) and a recent winter record from Hong. Eastern is clearly the commonest in HK being a regular winter visitor, but my feeling is that small numbers of Western winter in eastern China but are simply overlooked (if detected at all).

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    • #3
      Hi Paul,
      Thank you for your response. I hope that when I see my first Eastern, I will notice the structural differences. This episode will hopefully encourage people to look at Water Rails a bit more carefully. Maybe there is an Eastern lurking in Western Europe somewhere!
      Thanks again and best wishes, Terry

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