Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.
Here’a a great birding story complete with video and photos that comes from the Birding Community E-bulletin, a report prepared monthly by birder Paul Baicich of Maryland and Wayne Peterson, a Massachusetts birder. They open each report with stories of rare and unusual birds seen in the U.S. in the month past. Everyone might not find excitement in a bird they've never seen before, but hundreds of people traveled to New Mexico to see this bird, and the excitement was very real. Here is the E-bulletin report, received Wednesday, Aug. 7.
The rarity focus for this month is proof that you just never know what can turn up when you’re looking for birds.
On July 7, Matt Daw, a member of the Bureau of Reclamation's Southwestern Willow Flycatcher survey team, was birding at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico when an apparent Rufous-necked Wood-Rail simply walked through the viewfinder of his camera while he was getting video of a cooperative Least Bittern. Go figure!
The Rufous-necked Wood-Rail is a bird often found in coastal mangroves from Mexico southward, into Central and South America. The closest this species normally occurs to the United States is in Sinaloa, on the Pacific coast of Mexico.
Until Daw’s fortuitous discovery, this species had never been see in the United States.
You can watch Matt Daw's original video of the Least Bittern and see for yourself the Rufous-necked Wood-Rail walking into the background. Daw was so startled that he turned off the camera after a few seconds:
From the moment of Daw’s discovery the event became a birding phenomenon. Birders near and far came to Bosque to see this bird, and fortunately hundreds were rewarded. Visiting birders stationed themselves by an opening in the willows, on the boardwalk, or anywhere in the general vicinity of the original sightings. The Rufous-necked Wood-Rail sometimes worked the muddy shore on the west side of the pond, and occasionally would come out even further. Early or late in the day seemed to be provide the best viewing, although some days the rail was active even in the mid-afternoon.
The bird and some of the birders were even featured on TV, radio, and in the newspapers. The refuge staff was wonderfully accommodating, and the town of nearby Socorro clearly noticed the boost in traffic and increased occupancy at local motels and restaurants. It was a win-win situation.
Amazingly, this same refuge hosted another phenomenal first-record bird in November 2008 when a Sungrebe appeared there. It was reported in the December 2008 E-bulletin:
Fortunately, the Rufous-necked Wood-Rail was far more cooperative and stayed longer than the 2008 Sungrebe did. The wood-rail was last reported on 19 July. At that time, evaporating water in the pond area may have caused the bird to move on.
To view photos by Matt Baumann from the day of Matt Daw's discovery see:
To see national coverage of this amazing avian occurrence on CBS News, see:
The Birding Community E-bulletin is distributed to active and concerned birders, those dedicated to the joys of birding and the protection of birds and their habitats. This issue is sponsored by the producers of quality birding binoculars and scopes, Carl Zeiss Sport Optics:
You can access an archive of past E-bulletins on the website of the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA):
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