The Water Rail at Østensjøvannet was discovered (or at least first reported) by Conor C on 11 December. Given concerns about how vulnerable the bird might be to disturbance attempts were made to not publish too widely the exact location of the bird. News spread though, and the bird has since become a popular photo subject. The attention it received also revealed the brief presence of two birds but the long staying bird apparently did not tolerate the presence of the other bird and as it got colder and colder and the snow and ice free area shrunk and shrunk the second bird disappeared. It would be nice to think it flew to warmer climes but so late in the year it is more likely it perished which is the fate of many Water Rails that take the risk of spending the winter so far north.
When I first visited the bird on 12 December I threw out some porridge oats (havregryn) and myself and others have done so since. Some people view this as being wrong but I really do not see the difference in feeding the birds in your garden, the birds at a feeding station in the forest, the ducks in the park, the gulls by the river, Cranes and swans on an industrial scale at some nature reserves elsewhere in Europe or a Water Rail on a stream. We humans have done so much to destroy habitats, and especially wetlands, that it is almost our duty to feed all types of birds. The risks come where we upset the natural balance. Too much feeding of raptors (usually for photography purposes) can cause too many raptors in one place and if these places are also important for other species it can mean that the other species are stressed too much by the constant presence of the raptors. Feeding for the start of the winter and causing birds that would otherwise have migrated to stay and then stopping feeding is also wrong as many of the birds will not be able to migrate away so late in the season and risk perishing.
The Water Rail has been almost a text book example of a vulnerable bird being enjoyed whilst NOT being disturbed. The photographers have (with just a couple of exceptions) kept on the path and the bird right from the very beginning has not been particularly scared of people. The food put out for it has brought it a bit closer and made for better photos and I would just view this as a win win situation. With the ice and snow free area now being so small I also cannot believe that there is enough natural food (although it is clearly finding some) so the extra human provided food is I believe vital for this bird to survive. It is not uncommon that Water Rails come to feeding stations and the species is clearly very adaptable even though it is usually very shy and difficult to see.
I very well remember as a teenager wanting to see Water Rail and being absolutely gutted every time I read about a feeding station at for example Slimbridge where people were having great views. I am therefore very happy for all the people who have got their first ever or best ever views of this species and trust that most of them were as blown away with the experience as I have been.
I was back there today with tripod and filmed the bird with both the bazooka and superzoom. In the poor light the bazooka was the clear winner although I took at 25 fps on the bazooka (rather than the max of 50 fps) and 60 fps on the superzoom which may contribute to the difference. I had pushed up the exposure on the bazooka but not on the superzoom which may explain the brighter shots on the superzoom. So not really a like for like comparison then…..