Carolina birder Matt Daw from Raleigh was videoing a least bittern last week as it foraged at Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. In an interview, Daw said he was looking through the viewfinder at the bittern when suddenly, an interloper sauntered by behind the bittern. The 19-year-old college student is an avid birder and was working in New Mexico this summer studying willow flycatchers for the Bureau of Reclamation. But this was Sunday, his one day of the week off and what was he doing – you got it, birding.
Now birders don’t only bird on their days off – they peruse field guides of exotic birds and birding venues; they watch birding videos and they look at photos and think –“man I’d like to see one of those.” Well, it was “one of those” that Daw saw. He immediately identified the video bomber as a rufous-necked wood rail, Aramides axillaris, though he had never seen one in the field. Daw said, in the interview that after the rail disappeared back in the bush, he called a friend in Raleigh and asked him to look rufous-necked wood rail up on the computer. The description was “spot on” according to Daw with one little hiccup – “it’s not supposed to be there,” his friend said.
The closest record to New Mexico for rufous-necked wood rail is near Sinaloa on the Pacific coast of Mexico. The rail commonly ranges from Mexico, south to northern South America and is usually associated with brackish and/or salt-water habitats, especially mangrove swamps and there is no record (at least not yet) for the bird in the American Birding Association’s Checklist Area (ABA area,) which encompasses all of North America north of Mexico.
But one thing is sure – this photogenic bird has been photographed and seen by thousands of birders – no Sasquatchesque ivory billed woodpecker here – and it is definitely a rufous-necked wood rail.
Now what is a sedentary (non-migratory) rail, normally associated with brackish or salt-water habitat doing hundreds, if not thousands of miles out of its range and in a freshwater habitat to boot?
I am sure there is no other answer for that than – it’s a bird; it has wings and no one can ever tell for sure where wings might take you.
The question of provenance or origin of the bird remains. Some ABA sanctioned rules committee will be left with the daunting task of trying to decide if this specimen is actually a wild (countable) bird or some type of escaped captive.
I’m sure area birders and/or readers of this column will remember the hooded crane that showed up at Hiwassee Refuge in Birchwood, Tenn. last winter. That bird was ruled wild/countable to the delight of the thousands of listers that showed up to check the bird off their life list. The same could happen with Daw’s rail.
Siberian cranes in east Tennessee; Central/South American rails in New Mexico; 923 species new to science discovered in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park yet it’s estimated that 240 acres of natural habitat is loss each hour to the growth of human population and that 80 percent of the decline in biological diversity is caused by habitat destruction.
We apparently could care less if our grandchildren ever saw a rufous-necked wood rail or hooded crane or a tree they couldn’t reach around.