Monday, June 22, 2009

Marsh birds

(image from the internet)

At the Salt Marsh Nature Center in Marine Park under a vast gray sky, I saw a clapper rail sneaking back into the reeds. Busy looking other places for a few minutes, I saw the chicken-sized rail sneaking back into the reeds a second time. I wondered if there were two, but it seemed to be the same one, coming out to hunt then skulking back with something in its beak. Over half an hour or so, it came out a dozen times, sometimes coming within a few yards of where I was standing on the platform. It would get some food – prey looked dark and round, so perhaps it was some kind of snail – and then sneak back into the reeds. With that kind of feeding, it might have been bringing food back to a nest. Usually, clappers are heard and not seen, but this one only once let loose a few of the characteristic clapping “kets.” Best viewing ever for this observer of what used to be a very common bird before so many of our marshes were filled in.

Now, I’d come specifically to see clappers and also marsh wrens, both recently reported at the Salt Marsh. I’d seen clappers before, out at Jamaica Bay, but this was the first of the year for me for this species. However, I’d never seen a marsh wren before. I was drawn to a burbling sound in the reeds, on both side of the platform, which I didn’t recognize. There were at least two of them. The birds would emerge only briefly from the reeds, sometimes flying up and dropping straight down in a manner that I'd never seen before, and much too quickly to get a bead on them in the field glasses. Once one of them landed on a high reed very briefly and I felt pretty confident that it was a wren (it was definitely not a sparrow), but I wanted a better view. I waited out a few rain squalls. They would chatter. They would stop. One would chatter. Then I heard one farther way, and I followed the path back out from the platform. Ah-hah, there it was! Patience pays off. The 159th bird species, and the second life bird, of ’09. One hundred and forty-nine of these species (and both lifers; the other was a saw whet owl at the NYBG) have been seen within the bounds of NYC. I find that a remarkable and wonderful fact, and there are six more months of the year to go.

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