As I recalled the song, however, I realized it hadn't come from the meadow. It came from the hillside. The habitat was all wrong. There's no way a black rail was singing from the trees on the hillside.
As reality and disappointment set in, I realized I had been fooled by a mockingbird. Since the rail had already been in the area for a few weeks, one of the mockers, which are excellent mimics, had already perfected the song. That the phrase was repeated three times gave more credence to the notion that a mockingbird was singing because mockingbirds usually repeat each phrase three or more times.
Of course, this was all speculation. There is no way to be sure my interpretation was correct. But no way could I count what I had heard as a life bird.
Shortly before 9 p.m., as I prepared to leave for my daughter's house, I heard it again. "Kik, kik, kerr." Three times it called. It was too dark to tell where the sound originated.
Mockingbirds not only repeat phrases three or more times, they also frequently sing at night. So odds are it was the mockingbird again.
Birding is a self-regulated pastime. There's no way to know with certainty that bird I heard was not a black rail. But neither can I be certain it was. If I cheat, I only cheat myself. So it doesn't make my life list; not even with an asterisk.
I'm disappointed that I couldn't claim a life bird, but it had been a pleasant evening. And the best part about not finding a life bird is knowing that there will be another chance to chase this particular holy rail.
Send questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, West Virginia 26033 or by email at sshala...@aol.com.