Tag Archives: lower colorado river valley

Rail Status and Distribution in the lower Colorado River Valley

Note: I wrote this post back in 2013 or 2014, but never published it. I updated the eBird range maps and added song and call recordings from xeno-canto for each species. If you have any info to add, please do so in the comments. Thanks!

When birding a new place, it is helpful to have an idea on the status and distribution of various birds in the area. In this post, I’m going to discuss the distribution and identification of Ridgway’s, Virginia, and Black Rails in the lower Colorado River Valley (LCRV).

Ridgway’s Rail

ID: The largest of the three rails. Overall color is dull or grayish brown, but adults will have an orange-rufous neck and breast and have bold barring on flanks (Rush et al. 2012). The bill is long, and dusky-orange in color. Juveniles have a light gray-colored breast, no barring on the flanks, and the bill is dull gray, while the face is orange (Sibley 2003).

Habitat: Ridgway’s Rails prefer dense marsh vegetation, but will also occur in moderately dense cattail and bulrush marshes. (Rosenberg et al. 1991). Some water depth is necessary year round in order to provide optimal breeding and wintering habitat as well as residual mats of marsh vegetation (Eddleman 1989).

Territory Size: 0.12–3.59 ha – approximately 100 m x 100 m to 200 m x 200 m (Bennett and Ohmart 1978)

Status and Distribution: Ridgway’s Rails are uncommon to fairly common summer residents and breeders along the lower Colorado River (LCR) from the southern part of the valley north to Topock Marsh in Havasu NWR (Rosenberg et al. 1991). Out of the three rail species discussed here, the Ridgway’s Rail is reported on more eBird checklists than Black Rail, but less than Virginia Rail (See Figure 1. Below).

Calls and Function:

      • Kek-kek-kek-kek – primary male advertising call (Scott et al. 2012)
      • Clapper or Clatter – primary call given by paired birds during breeding season (Scott et al. 2012)

Clapper Rail - eBird - Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 11.49.12 PM

Virginia Rail

ID: Larger than Black Rail, but smaller than Ridgway’s Rail. Adults look similar to adult Ridgway’s Rails, but have a gray face rather than an all orange face. The bill of the adult is longer and thinner than Ridgway’s Rail and the breast and neck is a rich reddish color. The juvenile is extremely dark compared to juvenile Ridgway’s Rails, with dark blotches on the chest instead of a light gray-orange color (Sibley 2003). Virginia Rails apparently have more red on the bill than Ridgway’s Rails (Conway 1995).

Habitat: Freshwater wetlands with shallow water, emergent cover, and moist soil (Conway 1995).

Territory Size: No good estimate

Status and Distribution: Virginia Rail is a fairly common and local spring and summer breeder in the LCRV (Rosenberg et al. 1991). From March through June in Arizona and California, Virginia Rails are reported on a higher percentage of eBird checklists than both Clapper and Black Rails.

Calls and Function:

      • Kiddick call – primarily given by males and given during a brief time in spring (Conway 1995)
      • Duetting grunt – given by pairs and is most frequent (Conway 1995)
      • K-K-K-Keerr – probably a primary breeding call giving infrequently in early spring and may be similar to Kek-burr call given by Ridgway’s Rail females (Conway 1995)
      • Juvenile birds give one-parted squeaks


Virginia Rail - eBird - Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 11.49.41 PM

Black Rail

ID: A tiny rail, the smallest of the three discussed here. All-dark bird with white speckling on the back and a rufous nape. Also note the short, pointed tail, small, black bill, and red eye (Sibley 2003). NOTE – You will probably never see this bird.

Habitat: Freshwater marshes, wet meadows, and flooded grassy vegetation. Generally breeds in areas with shallower water than Ridgway’s and Virginia Rails. For Arizona, Black Rails prefer a water depth of < 3 cm (Eddleman et al. 1994).

Territory Size: 0.4 ha – approximately 20 m x 20 m (Rosenberg 1991)

Status and Distribution: Probably the species of rail you are least likely to detect throughout the LCRV as the population was estimated to be 100-200 individuals (Repking and Ohmart 1977).

Calls and Function:

      • Primary Vocalization: ki-ki-kerrr given during breeding season; presumably by male (Eddleman 1994)
      • Agitated Vocalization: growling call grr-grr-grr, repetitive brrr, or churr, churr, churr (Eddleman 1994)
      • Nest Vocalization: females give a scolding call of a rapid series of soft, high-pitched, nasal ink-ink-ink-ink or nk-nk-nk-nk; males give a kik-kik-kik-kik or kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk in a similar manner (Eddleman 1994).


Black Rail - eBird - Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 11.50.04 PM

Frequency

According to all-time eBird records for Arizona and California, Virginia Rails are reported on a higher percentage of checklists than Ridgway’s and Black Rails. Ridgway’s Rails are reported more frequently than Black Rails, which is probably due to small population size.

Figure 1. Frequency of eBird Checklists Ridgway's, Virginia, and Black Rails are reported on in California and Arizona from the beginning of March through June.

Figure 1. Frequency of eBird Checklists Ridgway’s, Virginia, and Black Rails are reported on in California and Arizona. Image provided by eBird (www.ebird.org) and created 2 December 2015.

Literature Cited

Bennett, W. W. and R. D. Ohmart. 1978. Habitat requirements and population characteristics of the Clapper Rail (Rallus longirostris yumanensis) in the Imperial Valley of California. Univ. of California, Lawrence Livermore Lab. Livermore, CA.

Conway, Courtney J. 1995. Virginia Rail (Rallus limicola), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu.bnaproxy.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/173 doi:10.2173/bna.173

Eddleman, W.R. 1989. Biology of the Yuma Clapper Rail in the southwestern U.S. and northwestern Mexico. Final Report, Interagency Agreement No. 4-AA-30-02060. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Yuma Projects Office, Yuma, Ariz., 189 pp.

Eddleman, W. R., R. E. Flores and M. Legare. 1994. Black Rail (Laterallus jamaicensis), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu.bnaproxy.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/123doi:10.2173/bna.123

Repking, C.F., and R.D. Ohmart. 1977. Distribution and density of black rail populations along the lower Colorado River. Condor 79:486-489.

Rosenberg, K. V., Ohmart, R. D., Hunter, W. C., and Anderson, B. W. 1991. Birds of the Lower Colorado River Valley. Univ. Ariz. Press, Tucson.

Rush, Scott A., Karen F. Gaines, William R. Eddleman and Courtney J. Conway. 2012. Clapper Rail (Rallus longirostris), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu.bnaproxy.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/340

Sibley, David A. 2003. The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America. New York: Knopf. Print.

Marbled Godwits are on the move in the LCRV!

Up now at Birding is Fun!

Marbled Godwit in Cibola, AZ on 10 April 2013. iPhone photo by Tim Schreckengost.

Not much on the migration front last night in Arizona.

Regional Overview at ~0400 on 5-23-2012

ARIZONA

There wasn’t a whole lot going on last night on the radar throughout Arizona despite light southwest winds.

Click on the thumbnail to view the full-sized animation.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

There appeared to be a movement of birds on the coast heading north out of San Diego.

Click on the thumbnail to view the full-sized animation.

______________________________________________________________________________________

For more on migration throughout the country, check out these sites:

Pennsylvania/Ohio Valley – Nemesis Bird by Drew Weber
New England – Tom Auer’s blog
New Jersey – Woodcreeper by David La Puma
Florida/SE – Badbirdz Reloaded by Angel and Mariel Abreu
NW Ohio – Birding the Crane Creek by Kenn Kaufman
Wisconsin – Woodcreeper by David La Puma
Pac NW – Birds Over Portland by Greg Haworth
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – The Northwoods BIRDAR by Max Henschell
New Mexico – Albuquerque Birding by Matt O’Donnell

Thanks to Drew Weber for setting me up with the radars and helping with the coding!

Please post your sightings and any feedback in the comments section! Thanks!

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at Rotary Park–5/20/2012

Around 10:00 this morning, I got a text message from Lauren Harter saying that there was a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at Rotary Park. The bird was first reported this morning by Chris McCreedy. I immediately grabbed my bins and camera and headed to Rotary Park, but made one quick stop to pick up Emily Sinnott on the way. Once we arrived at the park, I began scanning all of the light posts on the golf course and quickly found the bird perched on a large stone in the middle of the course. Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are rare migrants in the Lower Colorado River Valley. Here are my two best photos:

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at Rotary Park on 5-20-2012

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at Rotary Park on 5-20-2012

Reference: Rosenberg, K.V., R. D. Ohmart, W. C. Hunter, and B. W. Anderson. 1991. Birds of the Lower Colorado River Valley. The University of Arizona Press, Tucson, Arizona.

Decent migration through the LCRV and much of Arizona, go birding!

Regional Overview at ~0400 on 5-20-2012

ARIZONA

I don’t have the loops from this morning, but here are links for the Yuma Radar. Migration looked awesome last night throughout much of Arizona and southern California. Birds appeared to be on the move, everywhere.

Yuma–Base Reflectivity 5-20-2012
Yuma–Base Velocity 5-20-2012

 SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

______________________________________________________________________________________

For more on migration throughout the country, check out these sites:

Pennsylvania/Ohio Valley – Nemesis Bird by Drew Weber
New England – Tom Auer’s blog
New Jersey – Woodcreeper by David La Puma
Florida/SE – Badbirdz Reloaded by Angel and Mariel Abreu
NW Ohio – Birding the Crane Creek by Kenn Kaufman
Wisconsin – Woodcreeper by David La Puma
Pac NW – Birds Over Portland by Greg Haworth
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – The Northwoods BIRDAR by Max Henschell
New Mexico – Albuquerque Birding by Matt O’Donnell

Thanks to Drew Weber for setting me up with the radars and helping with the coding!

Please post your sightings and any feedback in the comments section! Thanks!

Birds moving West, but we’ll see if anything came up the LCRV last night

Regional Overview at ~0400 on 5-19-2012

ARIZONA

Last night, there appeared to be a decent movement of birds near Yuma, but they seemed to be heading in a westerly direction. David Vander Pluym and I are heading out to do some lake watching and to check for migrants at some local hot spots. Central and Southeast Arizona showed little movement last night. I will report back later with any migrants that we find!

Click on the thumbnail to view the full-sized animation.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Click on the thumbnail to view the full-sized animation.

______________________________________________________________________________________

For more on migration throughout the country, check out these sites:

Pennsylvania/Ohio Valley – Nemesis Bird by Drew Weber
New England – Tom Auer’s blog
New Jersey – Woodcreeper by David La Puma
Florida/SE – Badbirdz Reloaded by Angel and Mariel Abreu
NW Ohio – Birding the Crane Creek by Kenn Kaufman
Wisconsin – Woodcreeper by David La Puma
Pac NW – Birds Over Portland by Greg Haworth
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – The Northwoods BIRDAR by Max Henschell
New Mexico – Albuquerque Birding by Matt O’Donnell

Thanks to Drew Weber for setting me up with the radars and helping with the coding!

Please post your sightings and any feedback in the comments section! Thanks!

Migrants were moving through the LCRV last night!

Greater Roadrunner eating breakfast at the Bill Williams NWR on 5-18-2012

Last night, the radar showed moderate migration throughout the lower Colorado River Valley. Members of the crew observed decent numbers of many species of migrants from Blythe, CA to Needles, CA in the valley. Among the migrants, a few vagrants were also found including a Northern Parula, a rare migrant, near Blythe and a Virginia’s Warbler and Scott’s Oriole, both casual migrants through the valley, in the Bill Williams NWR. Here is a list of migrants observed by the GBBO Crew this morning:

Western Tanager, Willow Flycatcher, Pacific-Slope Flycatcher, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Bullock’s Oriole, Townsend’s Warbler, Hermit Warbler, Swainson’s Thrush, Yellow Warbler, Western Wood-Pewee, Chipping Sparrow, Audubon’s Warbler, Lazuli Bunting, Black-headed Grosbeak, Orange-crowned Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, and Warbling Vireo.

Note: Greater Roadrunners are not migrants and are residents in the LCRV. It was the only bird picture I took today!

Reference: Rosenberg, K.V., R. D. Ohmart, W. C. Hunter, and B. W. Anderson. 1991. Birds of the Lower Colorado River Valley. The University of Arizona Press, Tucson, Arizona.