Friday, March 28, 2014

Clapper Rail: "Thin as a rail" a big fat lie?

Clapper Rail
Clapper Rail. Tijuana Slough, California. March 2, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Rails are one of the more difficult birds to see. They generally live in wet fields or marshes, hiding in dense, soggy vegetation. Many birders know these birds by not much more than strange cries from the dawn marsh and glimpsed shadows through the grass. Secretive, they can compress their bodies to slip between adjacent water plant stems without giving away their location as Audubon noted. Thus the expression: "thin as a rail" as many a birder has no doubt heard and is repeated in many places. Or not. It is argued rather convincingly that the term refers to a fence rail, pole, or even a garden rake, thus the parallel expression: "thin as a rake." Just what the truth is, I can't say anymore.

Needless to say, as hard as two-dimensional rails are to actually see, they are harder yet to photograph. Thus my collection of rail photos until now consisted of a couple poor shots of a Sora and a blurry Virginia Rail.

So I was delighted to find the Tijuana Slough NWR visitor's center in Imperial Beach and the North McCoy Trail. Marlene and I walked out less than 1/4 mile on this trail, over a foot bridge across a tidal channel. As we stood looking over miles of marsh grass, this Clapper Rail nonchalantly walked out of the salt marsh vegetation just below us!

Tijuana Slough
Tijuana Slough

Clapper Rail
Fat Clapper Rail