Ian’s Bird of the Week – Sora (#382) ~ By Ian Montgomery
Newsletter (#382) – 09-29-10
Any birds that are a challenge to see exert a particular fascination. This includes all the night birds – owls, nightjars, etc – and all the skulkers and lurkers. We had a classic skulker, the American Bittern, a couple of weeks ago, and the crakes and rails belong in the same category and the same habitat. In Australia, I’ve never seen a Lewin’s Rail and I’ve never photographed a Spotless Crake. Here in the US, the Clapper Rails at the Baylands Park at Palo Alto are giving me a hard time too, but the Sora, a crake, and the Virginia Rail have been more obliging.
The Sora (Porzana carolina) is very close related to the Australian Spotted Crake (Porzana fluminea) and looks very similar, but lacks the Moorhen-like red spot on the bill. They both live in reedbeds but will sometimes come out into the open to feed, particularly in the evening and when water levels are low, as they are here now in California at the end of a dry summer.
I’ve recently visited a park in the hills above San Jose three times looking without success for Golden Eagles, but each time I’ve seen a Sora and twice a Virginia Rail as well. In fact, the bird in the first photo came out into the sunshine to feed on the edge of the reed when we – my sister is here now – were watching for a less cooperative Virginia Rail, that was making a lot of noise. All the crakes and rails have very distinctive, loud calls, so presumably they, like the bittern, have trouble seeing each other too.
Both species are widespread throughout the United Sates and southern Canada, so there’s probably a cautionary tale here about naming species after places, such as Virginia or carolina, though I’m presuming that they weren’t named after people. Both migrate, so crakes and rails will fly quite long distances if they have to – usually at night – and turn up in odd places. Some, like the Buff-banded Rail, widespread in Australia also occurs on coral islands on the Barrier Reef and in the South Pacific, where, with nowhere to hide, it can become quite tame. Others like the Lord Howe Island Woodhen, have gone to the skulking extreme and lost the ability to fly.
Well, Ian does it again! I saw a Sora once years ago and still haven’t been able to spot one again here in Central Florida. Ours hide a little more than the one he found. :)
I am glad that he is being successful out there in California. If I was envious, I would be upset, but I am not. I’ll just keep looking.
At any rate, the Sora is part of the Rallidae Family of Rails, Crakes & Coots. There are 131 species in the family. The Rallidaes keep company with the Flufftails, Finfoots, Trumpeters, Cranes and Limpkins who are also in the Gruiformes Order.
The Sora’s breeding habitat is marshes throughout much of North America. They nest in a well-concealed location in dense vegetation. The female usually lays 10 to 12 eggs, sometimes as many as 18, in a cup built from marsh vegetation. The eggs do not all hatch together. Both parents incubate and feed the young, who leave the nest soon after they hatch and are able to fly within a month. (Wikipedia)
Can the papyrus grow up without a marsh? Can the reeds flourish without water? While it is yet green and not cut down, It withers before any other plant. So are the paths of all who forget God; … (Job 8:11-13a NKJV)