Monday, June 27, 2011

Sora Rail & Marsh Wren, May Migration to Northern Illinois

A Sora Rail peaking through the cattails in Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 5/9/2010.
Two years ago in late May, I was quietly tiptoeing across a small boardwalk over a marshy area of Rock Cut State Park, when I heard the loud chattering of a Marsh Wren which was the one and only time I ever saw one - at least that I could identify. It was obviuosly upset that I came too close to its probable nest somewhere in the tall cattails growing majestically out of the marsh. The wren showed itself briefly in the thick reeds for me to get somewhat of a picture - albeit unsharp (Below). It flitted quickly and efficiently through the thick cattails and I never really got another good look at it as it stayed hidden near the bottom of the reeds just above the water's edge. When it seemed to disappear, I told myself that I'd be back to try my luck for a better photograph.
A blurry image of a Marsh Wren in the Cattail Marsh, Rock Cut State Park; 5/31/2009.
Well, for the next two years, I returned to that location many times since, and I never saw or heard any more signs of a Marsh Wren. A year later (2010) while doing my weekly search through that marsh, I caught a glimpse of some movement in the reeds below the boardwalk beneath my feet. I saw a chicken-sized bird with a large yellow bill and large yellow feet high-stepping through the shallow water in the thick cattails - barely visible. I've never seen a bird like this before, but suspecting it was a type of Rail (because of the habitat and the thinness of the bird's body). I held my breath hoping I could get a focus on it through the dense reeds. I had a feeling it didn't know I was there and it was caught by surprise - but I was able to focus through the reeds to get a partial pic (Top) before it slunk away. Because of the thickness of the cattails, it couldn't move very fast, and I was able to get a couple more pics (Below) before it escaped my viewfinder under the boardwalk.
Another glimpse of the Sora Rail, Rock Cut State Park; 5/9/2010.
Later upon sifting through my digital pics of the day, I was able to identify the rail as a Sora Rail. They have a large bright yellow bill with a black face on a mostly gray head and breast, with a brown crown and nape. The gray and brown give way to a more speckled (white and dark brown mixed with the reddish brown and gray) back and wings. It was fun to watch as it carefully high-stepped over the water's surface with their long yellow legs and toes. Their name comes from their very thin body width ("as thin as a rail"). They are somewhat uncommon, but can be found in marshy areas throughout the upper third of the U.S. from the Dakotas to the Northeastern states. In the eastern half of the U.S. , northern Illinois is on the southern edge of its summer range. They can be found throughout Canada and the West from the Pacific coast to the Plains states. In winter they will migrate to the southern edges of the U.S. along both coasts and the Gulf and southward into Mexico.
In summer, Marsh Wrens can also be found in marshy areas (no surprise there) in the northern half of the U.S. and into the southern edges of Canada. They will spend their winter months in the southern third of the U.S. and into Mexico.
Now I had two good reasons to return to this spot in Rock Cut State Park, but, alas, like the Marsh Wren, despite my repeated attempts to find the Sora, I never saw it again. I was disappointed this spring that this marshy area of Rock Cut hasn't produced much for birds - no Marsh Wrens, no Rails and not even the usual Tree Swallows. But I will keep trying hoping for their return and allowing me to see them.

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