White Ibis, Little Blue Heron and Clapper Rail

In addition to the missing Osprey nest nearby, highlights around the Willet Pond on Kiawah included a fine Gray Catbird sitting among brown marsh grass, and several Red-winged Blackbirds, whose shoulder patches gleamed very bright, glistening red. At least three dozen Pied-billed Grebes were scattered over the pond, floating in small groups here and there. Two American Coots swam in and out of tall grasses. Many White Ibis fed in the grass, mostly screened from view, but visible now and then, and at least one Glossy Ibis. A Great Blue Heron, a Great Egret, and one Little Blue Heron – dark purplish-gray-blue – stalked in water and grass not far away, and several Tri-colored Herons emerged in spots all over the pond and marsh. A couple of Forster’s Terns flashed over – we saw a lot of them this trip. They seemed to be everywhere, which was fine with me. No matter how many times I see them, they never lose their magic.

Just as we turned to leave, a plump, compact bird with a brownish, streaked back, stubby little upturned tail and a long thin orange bill swam out of a clump of grass on the edge of the pond near where I stood, and disappeared into another grassy patch. A Clapper Rail – I think. I’ve never before seen one so close and so clearly. Once again, I’m not completely sure – it might have been a King Rail – but other reports from this same pond in recent days have mentioned a Clapper, so I’m thinking that must have been what it was. I’ve heard them many times, but never had such a vivid, though very brief, view.

Does it matter if it was a King Rail or a Clapper? A Short-billed Dowitcher or a Long-billed? Well, yes and no. I’d like to know for sure, and I keep trying to learn more and to be more observant, but so often in birding it just doesn’t happen. You see a bird – then it’s gone, and there’s no instant replay. You’ll never know for sure. Though I try to get it right, it’s not the certainty that I enjoy – but almost exactly the opposite. The worlds of possibility, the challenge, the surprises, the reminder to appreciate how much we do not know – for me this is the pleasure and the point. The glimpses of something seen, but not captured or held, give birding its breath and spirit – as well as its frustrations – and make it not a static, knowable, countable thing, but an always fresh and somewhat mysterious joy. And there’s always next time.

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