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Friday, September 26, 2014

Birds of the Marsh: Virginia Rail and Marsh Wren plus Caspian Tern

[Lake St. Clair Metropark, Sterling State Park. MI. Sept 2014]

While mudflats and woodlands remain the focus for migration activity starring the usual suspects of shorebirds and warblers, our wetlands and marshes also offer habitats that support a different mix of species that should not be overlooked; including such species as:
  • Virginia Rail
  • Common Gallinule
  • Marsh Wren
  • Green Heron, Great Egret
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Wood Duck
  • Caspian Tern
  • Killdeer

We start with a couple of Rails:

Virginia Rail seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark

The Virginia Rail is a medium-sized rail of freshwater marshes. At about 10" in size, it is midway between the smaller rails (Black Rail and Sora at 6") and the larger rails (Clapper and King Rails; the latter coming in at a whopping 19").

Virginia Rail seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark

Cryptically plumed and secretive in its habits, the Virginia Rail is rarely seen (a fact attested by these frequently obstructed photographs) -- although in Spring, their vigorous vocalizations commonly betray their presence.

Virginia Rail seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark

However, on the rare occasion that the Virginia Rail should, in an act of unguarded generosity, permit the fortunate birder to indulge in unobstructed views, they will be immediately struck by the deep earth-tones, the red eye, white supercilium and grey cheeks that all lend an unparalleled visual splendor to this striking marsh bird.

The next rail is the humble Common Gallinule:

Common Gallinule seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark

Here observed in juvenal plumage, the Common Gallinule (like the Coot) is a largely aquatic rail. It is one of 10 Gallinule (or Moorhen) species worldwide including the Dusky Moorhen seen here in the Southern Hemisphere.
The incessant trilling of the Marsh Wrens in Spring is now just a memory, but they are still around:

Marsh Wren seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark

While not as vocal, they remain equally inconspicuous. On the heron front, many egrets were observed moving South:

Great Egrets at Sterling State Park were taking advantage of low water levels to fuel themselves for a long journey to more reasonably temperatured climes.

Both juvenile and adult Green Herons were on the move as well.

An assortment of other species included:

The always wary Belted Kingfisher:

.. and large flocks of Caspian Tern:

At Sterling State Park, this Wood Duck was one of several that did not immediately flush:

We end with a plover:

The Killdeer is seen here taking advantage of the vacant parking lot to roost.

Fall migration affords many possibilities for observing birds in passage and while the observation of shorebirds and warblers dominates, Marshes and Wetlands must not be overlooked.

1 comment:

Bob Pelkey said...

I'll have to look for a Virginia Rail at one of the marsh habitats here in a couple of months. A stunning species indeed. I had an encounter with a pair of Wood Ducks at Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve that at the time I didn't appreciate fully how closely they allowed me to observe them. I've since learned the species is typically extremely skittish. Another fun article, Hemant.