November 15th, 2010

One Cooperative Rail

Rails are marsh birds that look quite chicken-like. While that’s true, I might as well have said they look like eagles, since most people will never see one to find out differently! They are secretive birds that hang out within dense vegetation in an environment difficult for people to get into.

All this is to say that when you get an especially good look at a rail, you should savor it. And that is exactly what I got while waiting for the Sapelo Island ferry last month during the Georgia Ornithological Society meeting. A group of birders were hanging out on the raised dock platform, watching a distant perched Bald Eagle, and a much closer Belted Kingfisher. But a motion in the marsh grasses right next to the dock caught my attention. Out walked this Clapper Rail.

Clapper Rail

I think this particular rail was either very confused, or just really needed some sun. It climbed to the top of a pile of dead grass in the middle of a small clearing about ten feet away from some incredulous birders.

Clapper Rail

And it stayed there for at least five minutes!

Clapper Rail

Finally, it was time to get back into the grass.

Clapper Rail

Thin as a...

You hear about how thin rails are laterally, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen one from an angle that shows how skinny they really are.

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November 10th, 2010

GOS Fall Meeting: Raccoon Key

Way back in October, the Georgia Ornithological Society (GOS) held its annual fall meeting on the Georgia coast. (Yes, I’m a bit behind!) Jon Dunn gave the keynote address on the topic of gull identification. And, of course, there were field trips. This year, I took the opportunity to go on trips to some places I had never been to before. The first such trip was to Raccoon Key.

The reason I had never birded there was simple – I don’t think any birders knew the place existed before last year. You see, Raccoon Key is a small, privately owned island near Jekyll Island. From what I understand, the owners approached GOS last year about the possibility of offering field trips there. They worked out a deal and offered some trips during last year’s meeting. I wasn’t able to attend that gathering, so I made sure to go this time. And I’m glad I did.

Raccoon Key is about 200 acres of diked-off freshwater marsh (fed from an aquifer), saltwater marsh, beach, and vegetation. The only man-made structures are a boat dock and building, with a generator to supply power for lights and plumbing. After disembarking the boat, we stowed some gear at the lodge and planned our attack of the island. Basically, that just entailed a lot of walking around.

First, we checked out the marsh around the boat dock. Common Yellowthroats on the path were joined by a relatively cooperative Seaside Sparrow. While most of the group was trying to pish up the Seaside for better views and pictures, I turned around to check out the other side of the path. If there is a group of birders all looking in one direction, I like to look elsewhere to see what else is around (unless that group is actively looking for a particular bird I really want to see). The strategy paid off when I spotted a sharp-tailed sparrow perched up on some reeds. But which one? I got my scope on it as quickly as I could and found it to be a beautiful Nelson’s Sparrow. Finally! This was a long-overdue lifer for me. They are fairly common winter residents on the Georgia coast, and I’ve looked for them often, but just haven’t had any luck. But this one cooperated nicely, and even flew close enough that I was able to get a picture.

Nelsons Sparrow

As we continued on, we found the expected shorebirds, such as Killdeer, Semi-palmated Plover, both Yellowlegs, and Least Sandpiper. A Whimbrel flew over, and we later found three of them alongside three Marbled Godwits. A good number of wading birds adorned the trees like ornaments, including both Night-herons, Roseate Spoonbills, and Wood Storks.

Roseate Spoonbills and Wood Storks

We also thoroughly checked the trees for smaller birds. This was the middle of fall migration, so we were expecting to find some migrants about. We had a decent, but not spectacular, count of eight warbler species. But those that we did see, we had great views of. Someone literally almost stepped on a Black-throated Green Warbler! Unfortunately, the great views didn’t translate into great photos. One of the best I managed to get was this gorgeous male Black-throated Blue Warbler.

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Raccoon Key certainly has a lot of potential as a birding spot. We had a great day, though not as good as the trip the day after ours. They seemed to see all of the birds we had, plus many more, including one of the best birds of the weekend, a Red-necked Phalarope. Below is the list of 64 species that I, personally, had.

Roseatte Spoonbills and Wood Storks in flight

  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Snowy Egret
  • Tricolored Heron
  • Black-crowned Night-Heron
  • Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
  • White Ibis
  • Glossy Ibis
  • Roseate Spoonbill
  • Wood Stork
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Osprey
  • Bald Eagle
  • Northern Harrier
  • American Kestrel
  • Clapper Rail
  • Sora
  • Common Moorhen
  • American Coot
  • Black-bellied Plover
  • Semipalmated Plover
  • Killdeer
  • Spotted Sandpiper
  • Greater Yellowlegs
  • Willet
  • Lesser Yellowlegs
  • Whimbrel
  • Marbled Godwit
  • Ruddy Turnstone
  • Western Sandpiper
  • Least Sandpiper
  • Dunlin
  • dowitcher species
  • Laughing Gull
  • Forster’s Tern
  • Royal Tern
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • Tree Swallow
  • Barn Swallow
  • House Wren
  • Marsh Wren
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Gray Catbird
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Tennessee Warbler
  • Northern Parula
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler
  • Black-throated Green Warbler
  • Palm Warbler
  • American Redstart
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Nelson’s Sparrow
  • Seaside Sparrow
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
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November 9th, 2010

New Gig

I’m honored to have been asked to contribute to the North American Birding blog. My first post is up – Bird Conservation – It’s Up to You

November 3rd, 2010

Bird Conservation Web Event

The authors of the new book The American Bird Conservancy Guide to Bird Conservation will be participating in a webinar on Thursday, November 4.

When: November 4th at 3:00 p.m. EST (Washington, D.C. embargoed until 4:00 p.m. EST)
Web Connection: Click here to join
Audio Connection: (US/Canada): +1-408-600-3600 Access code: 669 563 475

You can find more details and information about the book at The Birder’s Library.