Birds of Seabrook Island

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  Clapper Rail
 
 

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  Order Gruiformes - Crakes, Rails and Allies
   Family Rallidae - Rails, Gallinules, Coots

  Gruiforms include a diverse assemblage found in most areas of the world. They are aquatic or terrestrial with the anterior toes free or incompletely webbed.
Rails are primarily water birds with a compressed body, long toes, and short, rounded wings. They are secretive and are best located by their song. Many feed at night, foraging while walking in damp marshes or swimming in shallow water.
Typical Rails are medium- to large-sized rails with relatively long, slender, and decurved bills. They have rusty breasts. Most also have barred flanks. All live a semi-aquatic life, foraging along the edge of marsh vegetation. They are relatively secretive and are more often identified by their distinctive songs than by sight. They eat more animal matter than crakes.
     
     
  Clapper Rail, Rallus longirostris
 
      Cornell     USGS     Wiki     ToL     EoL
        YEAR ROUND - Common / Common in coastal salt water marshes, breeds
            CORDGRASS (Spartina) MARSH (salt water)
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   The Clapper Rail is a large, long-billed and long-necked rail confined to cordgrass marshes (Spartina). [In the west, local populations also occur in fresh-water marshes.]
   They announce their presence with a clapping or grunting series of notes but are seldom seen. If seen they are drab overall with a grayish back and lightly barred flanks. (Their fresh-water relative, the King Rail, has an orange neck  with bold bars on the flanks.).
   Within marshes they may approach the edge of creeks or fly across a tidal creek or to a neighboring patch of cordgrass, but they are seldom seen flying within the marsh - they walk or swim. They have a very thin profile if seen head-on.
Clapper Rail
     
Clapper Rail. Pitt St., Mt. Pleasant
Photo by Ed Konrad
   
  RANGE: Clappers are found in salt marshes from Connecticut south to Florida and west around the Gulf to southern Texas. They also occur on the west coast from central California south to southern Baja. They are found along both coasts of South America to Peru and southeastern Brazil.
 

BREEDING: Monogamous. Two broods? Nests are located on a firm bank or in a clump of grass in the marsh near the upper levels of high tide. Males do most of the building. The nest is a basket of aquatic vegetation and tidal material lined with finer materials. It is well concealed and may be domed.  Ramps may also be evident. The male may build extra nests. Females lay 7-11 (5-12) eggs which both sexes incubate for 20-23 days. Development is subprecocial. Downy young leave the nest after hatching - they are probably fed by both parents. Chicks may be brooded in a separate nest. Young fly after 63-70 days.

  DIET: Clappers feed on crustaceans, especially crabs. They also take many aquatic insects, small fish, snails, worms, frogs, and seeds. They eject pellets of undigested residue. They forage by walking in shallow water or on pluff mud, especially on a falling tide or at low tide.
  VOICE: A series of clapping notes (4-5/second) and a grunting series (4-7/second). Marshes may erupt with choruses of rails touching base with each other at times.
  NOTES:
   Checklists -
      Seabrook (breeds). Kiawah - uncommon resident (breeds). Edisto - resident.
      Coastal - common permanent resident. Hilton Head - common permanent resident. Cape Romain - abundant year-round, breeds.
         Huntington Beach
- common, year round.
      Caw Caw - uncommon year-round, breeds. ACE - common year-round, breeds.
   Kiawah Island banding - 1 2011-12.
   CBC: ACE 66, 13, 28, 40, 109, 75, 62, 47; Charleston 103, 85, 66, 96, 40, 35, 10, 122;
            St. Helena/Fripp x, x, x, x, x, x, 12, 36; Hilton Head 102, 5, 50, 70, 49, 20, 4, 10; Sun City/Okatie 4, 8, 7, 40, 3, 8, 6, 4;
            McClellanville 11, 47, 40, 33, nc, 15, 32, 69; Winyah Bay x, x, 68, 25, 51, 53, 35, 42; Litchfield/Pawley's 52, 50, 64, 14, 2, 21, 15, 23.
   SCBBA: All coastal counties, Georgetown south.
   P&G: Common resident; very common in migration and winter. Egg dates: 20 April - 25 June.
   Avendex: 2 records. 125 birds during fall migration, Charleston Co., 21 September 2002.
   Potter: Very common permanent residents of salt marshes along the length of coastal Carolina. Populations increase in autumn with the arrival of migrants from the north.
  ●   Although listed as uncommon, Clapper Rails are heard year round all of our cordgrass marshes - wherever they occur. They were even found in the small patches of Spartina growing around the old lagoon behind the dunes on North Beach as this habitat degraded. Seeing one is a different matter!
   Sitting on our deck in Creekwatch, it is possible to see a rail emerge from the cordgrass at low tide. They may bathe or drink. They will also swim or fly across Capn' Sam's Creek to move from one side to the other. I've seen them darting between patches of cordgrass in the lagoon. Rails can be seen but it takes patience. More often they are heard - they often sing (call or "clapper") at night as well as during the day. Learn their song if you don't know it!
   Our best look ever at a clapper occurred when we were crabbing in Privateer Creek. We were near the bank when a rail appeared at the edge of the marsh, looking like he might climb in the boat. He was close enough to touch!
    At one point, I had a graduate student interested in studying rails but several encounters with "pfluff" in the marsh discouraged her -  she switched to Eastern Bluebirds (which proved to be an excellent choice).  
       
   

Hunting "Marsh Hens"

   Clapper (and King) Rails are also known as "marsh hens" and, along with Soras and moorhens may be hunted in South Carolina. The season includes four days in September and the period from October 13 - December 16 (see DNR's regulations for migratory birds). The daily bag limit is15 birds and hunting is legal only during daylight.
   How does one hunt birds that are so difficult to see? I'm not a hunter but my understanding is that those seeking marsh hens hunt only with high tides (6' for more) because the birdsshelter in emerget cordgrass as the tide increases - with high tides, there are few refuges. Using a flat-bottom punt and pole it is possible to skull over the marsh and locate clusters of birds that can be shot - I suspect they tend to swim away more than fly. A good bird dog is probably a help.
   First hand info would be appreciated. Personally, I'd rather listen to them "talk" across the marsh and enjoy them from the edge.

 
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