There are Clapper Rails in the marshes at Silver Sands State Park. I know they're there because I've heard them calling almost every time I've visited this summer, and I even caught a couple distant glimpses earlier this year of these secretive birds.
Or, I should say, normally secretive. Twice last summer I happened to see Clapper Rails (including two babies) up close and outside of the tall grass where they usually hide. This past Wednesday morning was apparently another weirdly bold days for the rails, because I saw seven (!) of these birds out in the open in different parts of the marsh. The first rail I saw, though, definitely gets the prize for boldness. It stood on this spot right next to the boardwalk -- with plenty of people (and dogs) walking by -- for several minutes, calm as could be. You might think that's a discarded hat in this picture, but no, clearly it's a Clapper Rail perch:
After standing for a bit, the rail settled down for a rest. How nice of some person to leave this perfectly rail-sized wicker seat here in the marsh!
I couldn't tear myself away from this awesome -- and let's face it, hilarious -- bird. A few passing people stopped to admire it, too, and to wonder what in the world kind of bird it was. (A duck? A plover?) So I got to share some information, and everyone seemed to agree that this bird was both cool and cute. Yay, Clapper Rail, you gathered admirers!
After the rest period, it was time for a thorough grooming session:
With some major feather fluffing:
And a big stretch or two (boy, that hat is good for all sorts of activities):
Finally, the rail hopped down into the mud:
It spent some time foraging in the shallow water:
And then it made its way back into the thick marsh grass (this view is much closer to how I usually glimpse rails, when I see them at all):
So that was awesome, and way more rail-time than I ever expected. But then later in my walk, on the other side of the marsh, I noticed some fuzzy black creatures wandering across the mud...:
Oh my goodness, baby Clapper Rails! And wait, are there three babies here? No! Four! (Do you see them all in this next picture?)
An adult wandered out after the babies (I'm not sure whether this is Mom or Dad, since males and females look the same, and the internet tells me that both parents take care of the growing chicks):
The parent was trying to forage for food, but that's kind of hard to do when one of your babies just wants to cuddle:
These baby rails were in such an exploring mood! Where are you going, little guy?
I love that white-paint-dipped beak, those huge pale ears, and those tiny wings. You are one cool little bird!
So yes, there are definitely rails at Silver Sands State Park, and every once in a while you actually get to see them! :)
The rails were the highlight of the trip, but there were several other cool creatures around, too. This small Green Heron was stealthily stalking food in a pond:
A juvenile Fish Crow was trailing after its parent and begging for food (it's the bird on the right in this picture, with pink at the corners of its beak):
The young crow stayed mostly away from my camera, but an adult Fish Crow let me get some close views:
I usually see Fish Crows at the beach and at our local supermarket's parking lot; around our apartment, we get mostly American Crows. The two species look basically identical, so I have to wait until they make some sounds before I can identify them. These guys kept talking to each other, so Fish Crow it is! What a handsome bird:
Hey, there are flowers at the beach, too. These Partridge Peas (Chamaecrista fasciculata) were lighting up the beach's sandy borders:
Toward the end of my walk, I came across a trio of Willow Flycatchers, which (like the Fish Crow) look pretty much exactly like a few other species, and so they usually need to call before I can identify them. These guys were silent, but since I've seen and heard Willow Flycatchers in this spot every time I've visited the beach this summer (and they were probably breeding here), I feel pretty confident giving this creature a name. Willow or not, though, you have to admit this is one adorable little bird:
So many active animals, and such wonderfully cool weather! Yes, it was definitely a great morning at the beach. :)