FIELDS POND AUDUBON NOTEBOOK

Colorful sora rails are common, but seldom seen

Posted July 10, 2011, at 10:44 p.m.

Kathy Burns and I went to the Essex Street Marsh in Bangor recently and saw a sora rail. This sora was in the cattails, walking on the mud and feeding in full view. It was handsome with its russet nape and gray neck, short yellow bill, and black face and throat. We were thrilled to see a rail. They are common, but seldom seen. They usually hide among cattails and other water plants.

We were fortunate to see a variety of other birds that day including male and female indigo buntings, a green heron, many warblers and a rough-winged swallow eating a large dragonfly, after plucking the wings off.

Birding is good at the Essex Street Marsh, so Kathy and I went there again a week later. This time we saw an adult sora with two little black chicks, each the size of a walnut. Their legs seemed long and their bills were short and red near the face, yellow at the tip. Chicks don’t have feathers, but are covered with black down that looks more like hair than feathers.

Soras are omnivores; they eat animals and plants. Included in their diet are snails, crustaceans, spiders and insects — mainly beetles, grasshoppers, flies and dragonflies. They often eat the seeds of plants such as smart weeds, bulrushes, sedges and barnyard grasses.

If alarmed, a sora runs for cover, narrowing its body to fit between stalks of cattails and other vegetation. There it disappears. A sora nest is saucer-shaped, and rests on the ground or on a platform over shallow water.

Three days later, I went to the Essex Street Marsh with Hope Brogunier. That day we found three black chicks. Two chicks were the soras, but the third chick was larger and had a longer yellow bill with a band of black in the middle of the bill. We looked in Sibley’s “Guide to Birds” and found that this larger chick was a Virginia rail. It was a wonderful thing to see two species of rail chicks together.

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Summer camp is being offered for youngsters at Fields Pond Audubon Center. All days include stories, games and exploration of the natural world. Camp meets 9 a.m.-3 p.m. weekdays. Call 989-2591.

• July 18-22: children entering third to fifth grade; slugs, bugs, frogs and logs.

• July 25-29: Preschool Nature Week, 9-11 a.m.; a week of exploration for children who have not yet entered kindergarten and their caregivers.

For information on Fields Pond Audubon Center, call 989-2591.

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