Monday, December 8, 2014

Say "Ridgway's Rail" Three Time Quickly

I quickly learned that I was wrong when I said I found my first Clapper Rail over a week ago at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach, California. I had seen the familiar Virginia Rail (9 1/2 inches long) just moments before so when I noticed what looked like a Virginia Rail on steroids (14 1/2 inches long) I wondered if I'd found a Clapper Rail. I pulled out my phone and checked my Sibley Guide to Birds app for Clapper Rail and sure enough it looked like a perfect match. I was excited and shared the news with a bystander who corrected me by saying, "It's now a Ridgway's Rail." I was informed that the American Ornithological Union changed the official name over the summer. Well actually the AOU officially accepted the name that James Maley, collections manager at the Moore Lab of Zoology at Occidental College, gave the California Clapper Rail after confirming that the California rails were not genetically the same as east coast Clapper Rails. Now to get my Sibley app to catch up with the times.

I wanted to "clap" when I thought I found a Clapper Rail. I wasn't sure how to "ridg" after finding a Ridgway's Rail, but when I made my first verbal attempt at the name it came out as "Ridgway's Wail". It suddenly sounded like a tongue twister. Try saying Ridgway's Rail quickly three times. Hopefully you do better than I did. Fortunately for me the bird was not hiding in the reeds like most rails when I came upon it so I enjoyed very clear observations of its foraging and preening behaviors.

Ridgway's Rail Fluffing Feathers in Orange County, CA
Ridgway's Rail is an endangered species and is split into three subspecies--California Ridgway's in the San Francisco Bay area, Light-footed Ridgway's between Los Angeles and San Diego, and Yuma Ridgway's in Arizona, Nevada, and eastern California.

The images below were captured while the rail was preening and stretching below a foot bridge in early morning light.

Ridgway's Rail in Morning Light in Orange County, CA
Ridgway's Rail Stretching in the Early Morning Sun of Orange County, CA
The two images below allow a comparison of the Ridgway's Rail from Orange County, California to a Virginia Rail I photographed on Antelope Island in Davis County, Utah. The much smaller Virginia Rail (right) shows a gray face and darker markings around the hind quarters. The bill lacks the bulk seen in the bill of the Ridgway's Rail (left).

It was nice to add a new species to my life list with such an obliging bird. These rails spend most of their lives out of human sight as they live, forage, and nest in dense grassy marshes.

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