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Monday, January 21, 2013

A "Rail-ly" Good Day: Clapper Rail and Sora

Clapper Rail

The chin is not white and does not contrast strongly with the breast.

The eye is reddish and the auriculars (cheek area) are gray.

Hunting for small fish.

Rails really like to be stealthy and stay hidden, which challenges the autofocus systems on cameras.

Don showing people the rails. Pretty soon a crowd was gathering and for some birders, who had never seen these bird species before, these were life birds.

A bonus was the Sora, another species of rail.

It was smaller, with a smaller yellow bill.

It also stayed in the grasses and hunted.


Wow, two rails in the same binocular view, a Clapper Rail and a Sora. This turned out to be a "rail-ly" good day, as my pun-prone husband said. On a tip from SWFLBirdline listserve that someone has seen a Clapper Rail at the Bailey Tract on Sanibel Island, FL, we headed over there today. We approached the east pond and saw someone looking at birds. Voila, out came a Clapper Rail, then a Sora. It was a grayish overcast day, just the type of light level rails prefer and photographers don't. I had my Canon SX 40 HS point-and-shoot superzoom camera (which zooms out 840mm and beyond to 140x) with me. These were photographically challenging conditions, not the least of which was that rails like to stay hidden. I I was hand-holding the camera. This camera does not take as high quality photos as a digital SLR, but its ability to zoom out and take close-ups of birds leads to more intimate views which are great for studying identification.

You can learn a lot about bird identification from your photos. It's like taking the bird in your hand back home with you. Make sure and take lots of photos of the bird from different angles. Here is some information on the rails, based on our field guide.

Clapper Rails are divided into two groups of subspecies: the Western North American Group (with 3 subspecies) which has rich reddish brown underparts and auriculars and a contrastingly white chin and the Eastern North American and Caribbean Group (with 5 subspecies) which is slightly smaller, has grayish auriculars, from gray to pale reddish brown underparts, and a less contrasting whitish chin. By range alone, this bird is in the Eastern North American and Caribbean Group. It is also in the very dull gray end of subspecies in this group. This most likely places it in the subspecies crepitans. Birds in this subspecies breed on the Atlantic coast from MA to NC and winter along the southeast coast. The picture in our Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America at the top of page 159 was taken on Sanibel, FL (several years ago) also in January and looks very similar to this bird. Could it be the same one?

Soras are monotypic, that is, they do not have subspecies.

By the way, as we just said in our last blog post we have great news. We are coming out in March with two portable new guides, The NEW Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern and Western Edition, that are a split of our national guide, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America (which came out in 2010). These new regional guides will contain all the same wonderful photos and text of our national guide and will be the most current of all bird field guides available. (By the way, these are not at all the same as our previous Stokes Field Guide to Birds, eastern and western regions published in 1996 which are going out of print.)

Have fun taking bird photos and through them learn how to better ID birds.


Pat O'Donnell said...

How nice to get two rail species in the same bino view! Thanks for sharing such close shots of those reclusive birds.

Sam Brunson said...

That's great that you got to see and get pictures of the Sora and the Clapper Rail! Soras are one of my favorites in the Rail family.

prentz said...

Hmmm. We've all heard of digiscoping. I'm now wondering about scoping digitally?