Lifer Clapper Rail at Merritt Island NWR

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After my morning visit with bad light at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge last weekend, I decided to use my Monday off to return in the afternoon.  My dad came with me to see his lifer Long-tailed Duck.  What I didn’t expect was to see my lifer Clapper Rail that afternoon as well.  It was a great afternoon!

We first stopped at Parrish Park to see the Long-tailed Duck.  The Long-tailed Duck is considered a very good bird in Florida.  This bird breeds in northern Canada on the Arctic tundra.  Normally its winter range in the US extends to New England and no further.  Florida was a big detour for this bird!  We spotted the duck waaaaay out in the ocean under the Max Brewer bridge.  I thought my pictures from Sunday were bad, but these were worse!  Then the duck took flight and my dad and I both clicked away, hoping for maybe one image in focus.  Well, kinda…

Long-tailed Duck in Flight
Long-tailed Duck in Flight.  The namesake long tail is only visible during breeding season.

We then headed to Blackpoint Wildlife Drive.  I’d forgotten how busy it is in the afternoon.  Note to self: schedule an extra hour to get to the good birdy spots!  I was disappointed that many of the birds I’d seen on Sunday morning were no longer hanging around on Monday afternoon.  I kept promising my dad that we’d see Pintail Heaven, and when we finally got there, there were just a few pintails!  But the ones that were there were nice and close…

Northern Pintails
Northern Pintails – the male on the left with the characteristic “pin tail”, and the female on the right doing what dabbling ducks do best – stick their butts in the air!

A bunch of birders with scopes were set up near Pintail Heaven, so we walked down there to see what they were looking at.  It turned out that a Sora and a Clapper Rail were both feeding along the edge of the vegetation.  Finally – the exception that proves the rule – my lifer shot of a Clapper Rail wasn’t terrible!!

Clapper Rail
Clapper Rail. He hangs out in the salt marshes, where his cousin the King Rail prefers fresh water.

The poor little Sora was jealous.  Everybody was taking photos of the Clapper while the Sora foraged wide out in the open.  By this time the afternoon light was just gorgeous on these shy birds.

Sora. It’s not often to see one fully out in the open like this.

A Green Heron lurked in the shadows.  He said that he deserved to have his photo taken, too, even if he wasn’t a rail.

Green Heron
Green Heron

A bunch of coots were splashing about.  I just can’t resist a good coot shot sometimes, especially when he’s in beautiful light.

American Coot
American Coot

Just when we thought the afternoon couldn’t get any better, it did.  The Clapper Rail left the safety of the vegetation line and started swimming out in open water, right towards us!  “Too much lens” was heard as I scrambled to get on a good angle.  What a fun bird!

My Lifer Clapper Rail - Swimming!
My Lifer Clapper Rail – Swimming!

The clouds were really pretty in the sky, so we stayed an extra few minutes and photographed the sunset.  The sun glowed orange on the horizon as the breeze blew around us, the end to a great afternoon.

Sunset on Black Point
Sunset on Black Point

As we drove out, we had my mom on speakerphone telling her about our lifers. For my dad it was a 3-lifer day – the Long-tailed Duck, a Common Loon, and the Clapper Rail.  In the midst of our excitement I slammed on my brakes and hopped out of the car to grab one last image.  I love this shot of the post-sunset clouds.  It’s pure Florida. :)

Florida Sunset
Florida Sunset

Want to learn more about nature photography at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge?

Check out my Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge page with more information about the location, map, website, photography tips, etc. It is archived by date so you can see my images from previous visits. Maybe you'll be inspired for your own trip!

Planning a trip to Florida? Don't miss my Central Florida Bird Photography Locations reference guide!

5 thoughts on “Lifer Clapper Rail at Merritt Island NWR

  1. Would you please tell me better where the Rail and Sora were? I am sorry to bother you but hoping you’ll help me. Thanks.

  2. Thanks everybody! Yes, Deb, you need to get out shooting again. :) Ed, after following your blog for years, it’s nice to see that you’ve found mine too! Nancy, it’s never a bother to share good birding information. The Sora and rail were along Black Point at the ponds where the Northern Pintails usually hang out. It’s the most duck-y point on the drive. I don’t know the stop number. They were at the edge of the vegetation. From what I’ve been told the Clapper rails are pretty common out there, and can be seen at numerous places along Black Point, but this was my first time seeing them. Another good place to check is around the restrooms.

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