Tree Climbing Rails

April 18, 2016  •  2 Comments

On my way home from work one evening in March, at dusk, I was making my way across the Luas bridge over the Grand Canal. As per usual, I was plugged in to my mobile device listening to choons at the end of a stressful day at the salt mine. As I glanced over to the west, admiring the sunset, I noticed a large dark bird about 10 metres up a tree along the edge of the Canal. I thought that it looked too big for a Blackbird, too rotund for a Pigeon and not a Moorhen because it was in a tree. I paused on the bridge, took a closer look. Lo and behold, it was a Moorhen! A Swamp Hen up a tree. I couldn't believe it. I can only imagine that the bird was there to avoid being predated on by foxes, rats, cats, dogs, mink or other predators along the Canal. It certainly made me smile and I plodded on home with a bit more pep in my step having witnessed that. 

MC7D2545 MoorhenMC7D2545 Moorhen MC7D2562 Moorhen preenMC7D2562 Moorhen preen MC7D2593 MoorhenMC7D2593 Moorhen

Over the next couple of weeks, I had the same experience every evening I was walking home. However, the single Moorhen became a pair of Moorhen in the same tree. Judging by the amount of bird dropping stains on the branches of the tree, they had been roosting there for quite some time. I brought my camera down to the Canal on Saturday evening when the light was reasonably good. Sure enough, there were the pair, setting up shop for the night. There was some jostling for position and a bit of "walk the plank" antics caused one of the birds to fall off the branch and into the Canal. Trying to get a decent angle for the birds was tough given the height they were at and the level I was at, either on the canal bank or on the Luas bridge. I used the 100-400mm Canon lens, which allowed me to (a) travel light and (b) use the the versatility of the zoom lens in trying to capture the image I wanted. The tricky aspect of this kind of scenario (time of day and tree branches) is that the shadows of the branches are quite long and broad and difficult to see smaller twigs, thus making for a clear shot very difficult to come by. 

MC7D2570 MoorhenMC7D2570 Moorhen For example, in this shot I wanted to make sure that I got some catchlight from the setting sun in the eye of the Moorhen. I was at the other side of the canal so it was difficult to gauge where the shadows were and whether there were any small branches going across the face/head of the Moorhen. The dark plumage of the bird against the background also made it difficult to judge whether there were nuisance branches or shadows in the way. This was the best of the images I managed that evening. 

MC7D2589 Moorhen roadMC7D2589 Moorhen road

Another image I wanted to capture was that of the encroachment of man in our natural world, but also how wildlife has adapted to fill the niches that are being created by man's building and encroachment. In this shot, after a long day foraging along the man-made canal, the Moorhen is preening in a tree that is growing on the roadside while a car passes by and a LUAS arrives into the stop on the bridge. It was sort of what I was looking for, but not quite what I wanted. MC7D2631 MoorhenMC7D2631 Moorhen MC7D2634 Moorhen climbMC7D2634 Moorhen climb What I was very surprised at was seeing one of the Moorhen actually climbing up the branches of the tree rather than flying up to their branch of choice. A mixture of grappling feet and flapping wings propelled the Moorhen up the branches in no time whatsoever! It was a strange sight to see but it certainly brought thoughts to the fore of how their ancestors must have also climbed trees using their additional claws on their "elbows". 

MC7D2651 Moorhen pair silMC7D2651 Moorhen pair sil    MC7D2682 Moorhen silMC7D2682 Moorhen sil

I finished off the little photoshoot with some silhouette images of the Moorhens in the tree, with some city centre/urban backgrounds. I was careful to frame the Moorhen within the branches but to leave enough space around the bird to give it some room. A bit of climbing on some railings and using the aching knees as anchors, I was able to achieve that. I will have to head back again before the leaves escape from their buds and close off all views of the roosting Swamp Hens and try to get some more perspectives and action images. 


Mary Carmody(non-registered)
Very interesting, Mark, great shots
Mary Carmody(non-registered)
Very interesting, Mark, only ever saw them in the water, love the photos
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