2013 Wetland Bird Surveys Completed


Virginia Rail (Rallus limicola)
Courtesy of Utah Department of Natural Resources

Over the past few weeks, Mary Hawvermale and I have been searching around the property for evidence of rails, bitterns, and other wetland birds.  Rails are a type of secretive marsh bird that probe for invertebrates among plants in shallow water, while bitterns stalk fish and amphibians among dense reeds.  Both types of birds tend to remain deep in the vegetation and are very difficult to see. The Connecticut DEEP and similar organizations across the country are concerned about rail populations because of habitat loss.  The marshes these birds call home are increasingly subjugated to pollution and development.  As a result, rail populations have decreased, but we would like more information on their populations as we proceed with conservation projects. White Memorial's vast expanses of marsh makes this the ideal location to gather data for rail conservation.

Mary was kind enough to sample the Bantam River by kayak between Whites Woods Road and Bantam Lake, while I sampled the remaining locations by foot.  The protocol was relatively straightforward:  we would arrive at a predetermined site, listen silently for rails calling for five minutes, and then play calls on a boom box to elicit calls from the rails.  Rails are difficult to see, but they tend to call back to a recording of their voice.  This habit made it easier for us to determine the presence of rails. 

In Connecticut, we have six rail species, several of which are State-listed:

-King rail (Rallus elegans) breeding population State Endangered
-Black rail (Laterallus jamaicensis) breeding population State Endangered
-Sora (Porzana carolina)
-Virginia rail (Rallus limicola)
-Clapper rail (Rallus longirstris)
-Yellow rail (Coturnicops noveboracensis), very rare in Connecticut

In addition to the rails, we also surveyed for the presence of least bittern and common moorhen, two other State-listed wetland species.

Over the course of the past few weeks, Mary and I have heard Sora, Virginia rail, and King rail.

Virginia rail was our most common species, being heard in eight out of our sixteen study points.  These rails were consistently around Little Pond and Mallard Marsh.  One interesting observation was that these birds shifted locality during last week's heavy flooding.  Last Saturday, there was about a foot of water covering the boardwalk at Little Pond, and the Virginia rails were nowhere to be found.  However, we observed Virginia rail at Duck Pond and near Catlin Woods, two places we have not seen them this year.  The flooding also brought the rails out of the marsh onto puddles on the trails.  Here it was easier for the rails to forage.  We observed a total of seven rails, as opposed to the four or five rails we observed when the water levels were closer to normal.

Mary heard a single Sora along the lower Bantam River, but we did not hear any Sora near Cranberry Pond, where they were last year.

In addition to these species we expected to find, we were pleasantly surprised by a King rail calling from the marsh northwest of Little Pond.  We first received reports of this King rail from the first week of June during our BioBlitz. Apparently this individual has continued to live around Little Pond.

Altogether, we observed a total of about six individual Virginia rails, one Sora, and one King rail.  We hope that continuing research can help us shed more light on wetland bird conservation.
You can read more about the State's wetland bird project here and at the December 2012 edition of Connecticut Wildlife.  You can learn more about King rail in Connecticut here.

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