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To Find a Clapper Rail Nest

Updated: Jan 19, 2019

Matt Monjello

Along the coastlines of the eastern seaboard, from Texas to New Hampshire lives the Clapper Rail. Throughout dense and expansive saltmarsh vegetation is where these elusive birds forage, find mates, breed and build well concealed bower nests. This past breeding season brought with it many moments of joy when I would locate a nest of a species I was searching for. It also brought with it challenges and moments of frustration when a particular nest, no matter how many days I searched for it, eluded me. No other bird this year challenged me more than the Clapper Rail.

My day would start with kayaking out to vast tracks of saltmarsh. I would dock and walk through areas that appeared to be inhabited by loose colonies of breeding pairs. The vegetation of spartina grass was often as tall as 4 feet which made nest searching difficult for a guy who’s 5’8 carrying 35 lbs of equipment and sinking into tidal mud with each step. This created many moments of frequent falls followed by softly spoken expletives.

I would hear the rails more often than I would see them. Their cacophony of calls would surround me, which provided a sense of false hope that “surely today will be the day I will locate a nest." Any disturbance greater than the sound of my boots popping out of the mud would directly affect their behavior. Just like a tossed stone hitting a placid lake, a ripple effect would be created. All the rails within a 50ft radius of me would go quiet.

For 4 days I returned to my tent with a great sense of humility and genuine admiration for these birds that could hide themselves and their nests so well. In the evenings as the sun began to set I could not help but smile hearing their faint calls across the water as I closed my eyes and dreamt of the saltmarsh.

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