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#ABArare – Rufous-necked Wood-Rail – New Mexico UPDATED

A Rufous-necked Wood-Rail has been reported from Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (fee) near San Antonio, New Mexico. Matt Daw obtained video of this bird in the morning of July 7 when it walked through the frame as he was videoing a Least Bittern. It was about 25 meters past the “1” sign on the Marsh Overlook Trail. (Click here for a map showing what I believe is the Marsh Overlook trailhead. That is not confirmed right now, so use with caution.)

UPDATE: Other birders are on-site and confirming the identification.

The video will probably be released tonight (July 7). At least until then, this should be regarded as an unverified report. After that, I’m sure there will be questions of provenance.

Video by Matt Daw. The rail comes in towards the end.

There are no previous records of Rufous-necked Wood-Rail in the ABA Area, and it is not shown in the popular field guides to the US and Canada. (Click here for a Google image search for the species.) It is a species of mangrove swamps from Mexico to northern South America. The closest it occurs to the ABA Area is Sinaloa on the Pacific coast of Mexico.

This isn’t the first completely unexpected report from Bosque del Apache. In 2008, a Sungrebe was found here. That bird was photograped and seen by several observers. It was accepted as the first ABA Area record for that species.

More Rufous-necked Wood-Rail at the ABA Blog is here

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John Puschock

John Puschock

John Puschock reports ABA rare bird alerts and manages #ABArare for the American Birding Association. John is a frequent participant in rare bird forums around the web and has knack for gathering details necessary to relocate birds. He has been a birder since 1984 and now leads tours for Bird Treks, as well as for his own company Zugunruhe Birding Tours. He has led tours to locations across North America, from Newfoundland to New Mexico and from Costa Rica to Alaska. He specializes in leading tours to Adak in the Aleutian Islands.
  • Anon

    If accepted, this will go down in history as the best photo bomb ever.

  • ^LIKE!

  • John W. Shipman
  • Jesse Ellis

    I feel like broaching the issue of provenance in the very first of ABA’s reports on this bird is unfair to the finder. If you, the author, have an issue with it, cool, but perhaps make a different post and lay out your arguments? If others have issues, report on those? But just assuming doesn’t help here. “Provenance” is something all bird records groups are going to have a harder and harder time dealing with as a) weirder and weirder low-probability birds do show up naturally and at the same time as b) more birds show up unnaturally. But it’s not like this is a common cage bird, or a rare cage bird. I can’t even guess what the issues of provenance with a rail like this might be. Is it truly germane?

  • Although I tend to think that bird records committees are, on average, needlessly and irrationally “conservative” about provenance, I think it’s entirely appropriate for John Puschock to have adopted a cautious approach right here, in this breaking-news report. He’s right: Provenance will indeed be brought up. And it’s good to state that we’re dealing here with an “unverified report.”

    So here’s an enthusiastic vote for how John has handled the matter–and a two-thumbs-up, more generally, for the terrific service he’s been delivering, via #ABArare, to ABA members and to the broader birding community.

  • Regarding “provenance,” be sure to see Ned Brinkley’s fine essay by the same name:

  • Haha, yes!

    Pretty darn unexpected even though rails do have a tendency for wanderlust. Not much known about the movements of this species either but in Costa Rica (and perhaps other places), it seems as if it may spend part of the year in mangroves and other parts of the year in moist forest at middle elevations (one recently showed up in such habitat near Monteverde as it has in the past).

    What a major find!

  • I was not, and am not, questioning the provenance of this bird myself. What I intended to convey was that a discussion on that subject would follow after the ID was established, both online and in record committee deliberations.

    I must admit that I’m surprised that the online community seems in large part to accept a wild origin for the bird. I share that opinion, but with the internet being the internet, I’m still surprised. I do agree with you that we are entering an age when “determining” if a bird is wild or not is becoming more difficult. (I’m using quotation marks because we’ve never really been able to determine the true origin of individual birds except in exceptional cases. It’s always been weighing our opinions of probabilities.)

  • Joshua Stevenson

    Haha. Nice!

  • Michael Retter

    As Pat O’Donnell said, there are records from well inland in Costa Rica, including as high up as Bijagua on the slopes of Volcán Tenorio (just under 1000m) and more than once near Monteverde (1500m)–cloudforest just above both locations. I am unaware of any similar records in Mexico, but given the Costa Rica records, it seems pretty clear that this species–like many other rails–moves far from “expected” locations from time-to-time.

  • lanshark

    The rail continues this morning, June 8. My parents just saw it about 15 minutes ago.

  • Bill Pranty

    = July 8.

  • lanshark

    Oops, yes, that is supposed to be July 8th.

  • Lee Jones

    I have what I believe is pretty persuasive evidence that Rufous-necked Wood-Rails are migratory, not just periodic “wanderers”. In El Salvador and other Central American countries with high mountains it breeds in in mid- to high-elevation rainforests. In Belize, with no mountains over 3,000 feet, it is found ONLY in winter (mid-September to mid-May where it is confined primarily to mangroves and littoral forests along the coast. But, it also turns up in other habitats away from the immediate coast and I once found a fresh roadkill far from any known wintering localities. It would be interesting to see if a thorough search of the literature would reveal few (if any??) winter records from montane rainforests. In a cursory review, I found none, but I have never taken the time to do a thorough search.

  • In a similar vein, I just got in from making audio-recordings of the early-July dawn chorus around my neighborhood in Boulder County, Colorado. Nothing at all remarkable out there, bird-wise, just House Finches, Mourning Doves, a distant Say’s Phoebe, etc. But check this out: I got a photo bomb, in a sense, of a BIG BROWN BAT.

    I can’t hear the recording (fundamental frequency about 20,000 Hz), but I could see the actual bat, and I can see the trace on the sound spectrogram.

    Is that cool or what?

  • Andy Kratter

    In my opinion (and I serve or have served on AOU, ABA, Florida and Bahamas committees), provenance should be considered to be wild unless there is evidence to suspect otherwise. First, is the species kept in captivity? I would be surprised if any Rufous-necked Wood-Rails are in zoos etc (can’t check ISIS right now) and it is not the type of bird that would be kept/ transported by private parties/bird smugglers. Second, does it show any signs of being in captivity? And third, is the species sedentary? If the answer to these three questions is no, then it is best considered a vagrant from natural populations. Given the movements listed by Lee and others above of RN Wood-Rails and the propensity of rails to be highly mobile, I can’t see reason why a records committee could come to that conclusion. I am kind of surprised that the knee-jerk response that the provenance my be anything other than natural. What a great bird!

  • Does anyone know if it is still there now? My brother is birding in Utah about 8 hours away and is heading there now but would like to know if it is even still there. Thanks!

  • Donna Madrid-Simonetti

    It was still there at around 12:30 pm today when I left. Looking very comfortable & at home. Great looks! Very positive still there.

  • Thanks Donna!

  • Christopher Williams

    I watched him for several hours in mid-day on 7/9/13–FANTASTIC! We said jokingly that he seemed to have been adopted by the pair of least bitterns that were always near him. He was with them constantly–often within inches of one of them. Is it indeed possible that he somehow bonded with these bitterns when they were in his neighborhood for the winter, and couldn’t stand being left behind?

  • Wood-rails, as opposed to other rails ARE kept by collectors and possibly in some zoos. Gray-necked wood-rails are fairly tame at some locals in Costa Rica. Therefore this record will be scrutinized on origin issues.

  • This is about the BIRD not the observer, right?

    BTW, the Sungrebe at the same locale was scrutinized to the Nth degree by both the State and ABA Committees, so much so that it basically had to be proven that it couldn’t have been anything other than a wild bird.

    If the wood-rail meets with the same skepticism, I doubt it will be accepted.

  • The bird is still being seen as of today, 7/11.

    On the issue of origin, it should be noted that NM’s first Clapper rail was discovered at almost the exact same spot in the spring of 2009, and the same bird (presumably) returned to the same spot in the summer of 2010. Both these species frequent mangrove swamps on Mexico’s Pacific Coast as far north as Sinaloa.

  • Just discussing Rufous-necked Wood-Rails with Rich Hoyer and we were talking about the disparate habitats and regions it is known from. (As Lee, Pat, and Michael mentioned above.) In Ecuador it is known from the mangroves along the southwest coast, and also from a couple of patches of deciduous forest on the Pacific slope of the Andes and in the coastal hills. Some of these sites are even above 1000m in elevation and over 100km from the nearest coast.

    A quick look at eBird reveals there are reports from the mangroves in Ecuador year round. Unfortunately, there is not much data from the forested sites the species is known from (Jorupe, Sozoranga, Cerro Blanco, etc.) but the few records seem to be all from Febuary and March. This would be the wet season in this seasonally dry deciduous forest.

    For some reason it never occurred to me that the species must be migratory but in my conversation with Rich I just had a mid-blowing “duh!” moment. How can I put out a bulletin to all birders to please add any Rufous-necked Wood-Rail sightings they have to eBird? ABA facebook page perhaps? We might be able to establish some good evidence for seasonality in Ecuador too if there were more data.

  • For some reason it’s not displaying my name; I did not mean to be anonymous. –Scott Olmstead

  • Fascinating record, and (rather belated) congratulations to the finder! (Had it happened to me, I probably would’ve had a coronary…)

    Although I don’t personally have any kind of stake in this (i.e., I will not be coming down there to try to see this individual), I would be interested to know if anything came out of the provenance discussion. Did anyone try to eliminate possibilities? Is there a discussion of this going on elsewhere?


  • The issue of origin is being researched and discussed by members of the NM RBC, and other regional experts.

    Most seem to think its of wild origin based on several factors. Most detractors bring up the issue like the presence of wild bird markets in northern Mexican cities. The fact is that there are not many such markets (or demand), and if there are, they usually have parrots, parakeets, mockingbirds, house finches, etc.

    The fact that Clapper rails have made their way to the same location lends credence to the position that this is a wild bird. Crakes, rails, and other species in this genus have shown the ability for long distance vagrancy. The fact that crakes and rails are so very difficult to see probably understates this trend.

    Based on what I’ve heard, this likely will be accepted as a wild bird.

  • I’m a new birder (only 2 years). Can provenance really be determined, given all the possibilities?

  • Bob Holbrook

    I’m not at all surprised that one of these would show up in the US some time at a location such as Bosque. While living in Brazil, I found it tobe one of the often seen birds in unexpected places. They seem to show up in nearly any habitat that has at least some cover to which it can run to quickly as long as it can enjoy wandering the middle of the roads. It often got quite humorous to try and guess where the next sighting might occur while on one of our birding field trips.

  • Ted, can I see your bat photobomb. I guess it’s a trace on the sound spectrogram. I’m fascinated to see what that looks like.

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