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Sue's Bird Blog Archives

Virginia Rail at Mendon Ponds

Published January 26, 2014
Tags: Parks and Preserves, Virginia Rail, White-throated Sparrow, American Tree Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbirds, Dark-eyed Junco, American Robin, Northern Cardinal, Blue Jay, White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-breasted Nuthatch

For the last several years, maybe as many as ten, a Virginia Rail has been found at Mendon Ponds when the big pond freezes over. Speculation has it that either the rail overwinters  every year, remaining hidden in the marsh when the pond isn't frozen - or perhaps it migrates some years and it's hit or miss - or it's a different rail! I'm not sure if anyone knows the answer, but for whatever reason, a Virginia Rail is being seen there again this winter!

So... I was intrigued and I had to see this phenomenon for myself. I picked today to make the long drive and the cccccold walk to find this normally shy bird.  By the way, this wasn't a life bird for me. I saw one last June at Beaver Meadow, thanks to Tom Kerr's find.

I was so pleased to see the rail and spend some time watching its behavior as it foraged in the open water of the creek. Since Virginia Rails are usually very reclusive and quick runners, this was a rare opportunity to see one at relatively close range. The temperatures are supposed to drop even more over the next few days, so I hope the water remains unfrozen for the little guy.

Did you know the Virginia Rail will choose to escape predators by running instead of flying? And if they HAVE to fly, they'll fly only a short distance. However, during migration, they fly very long distances, so it's not that they CAN'T fly well; they just choose not to!

Other birds seen at Mendon Ponds today were a nice little flock of American Tree Sparrows, a few White-throated Sparrows, Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, Dark-eyed Juncos, several American Robins, and oddly, 5 or 6 Red-winged Blackbirds!

I'm looking forward to returning to this park in the spring. With the pond and creek, thick foliage, and marshy areas, I imagine it is a great spot for warblers. I intend to find out! :)

And a big thank you to Pat Martin for finding this wonderful bird and for helping me out!

1/27/2014 addendum : I received some interesting information from Bob Spahn. Bob wrote that it is fairly common to find a Virginia Rail and even a Sora at Mendon Ponds in the winter. It is also quite likely they can also be found in other areas where there are small open patches of water, such as the Montezuma and Iroquois Wildlife Refuges and the Conesus and Honoeye Lake regions.  They've been found on many of the Christmas Bird Counts, giving evidence that they do, in fact, choose to overwinter in these places. Mendon Ponds just happens to offer the "perfect place" for visibility.
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Virginia Rail
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Virginia Rail
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Virginia Rail
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Virginia Rail
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Virginia Rail
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Virginia Rail
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Virginia Rail
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Virginia Rail
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Virginia Rail
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Virginia Rail
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Virginia Rail
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Virginia Rail
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A Red-winged Blackbird in the creek
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A Tufted Titmouse and female Northern Cardinal take advantage of the feeding station near the entrance to the trail
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White-throated Sparrow
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American Tree Sparrow
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There were several Red-winged Blackbirds here!
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A White-breasted Nuthatch - one of many
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Several White-tailed Deer were seen too
Reply from: Tim on 1/26/2014 8:54 PM
 Great photos of that rail Sue! It certainly was extremely cold.
Reply from: Sue on 1/27/2014 6:56 AM
 Thanks, Tim. It WAS cold! And that poor rail really looks cold; doesn’t s/he?