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Meet Matt Daw, the Guy Who Found the New Mexico Rufous-necked Wood-Rail

Matt Daw at Bosque del Apache on July 7, 2013, a day he won't soon forget! Photo ©Jeffrey A. Gordon

Word has been spreading quickly of a truly remarkable birding event: Matt Daw's discovery of a Rufous-necked Wood-Rail at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro, New Mexico. Whatever the official ruling on this bird's provenance, there can be no doubt that Matt just experienced a red-letter birding day.

I met Matt a couple of years ago at a Colorado Field Ornithologists' convention in Grand Junction, CO. Now, at the age of 19, he's attending college and working this summer studying Willow Flycatchers for the Bureau of Reclamation. Getting to hang out with Matt a bit was a terrific bonus of our hurried trip down to see the wood-rail.

Though Matt's skills and his find are entirely his own, I'd be remiss if I didn't say how proud we all are that Matt honed those skills in part by participating in the ABA's Young Birder programs. It's just wonderful to see him doing good work for conservation and bringing his talents to bear in finding and identifying and sharing news of this amazing bird. 

I asked Matt to tell me a little bit of the story of finding the rail and recording what is already surely North American birding's most famous photobomb



Finally, here's a shot I took yesterday of the rail. What a neat, neat bird. Thanks, Matt!


Rufous-necked Wood-Rail, Bosque del Apache, July 8, 2013, digiscoped with a Swarovski ATX 85mm + Canon 60D. Photo ©Jeffrey A. Gordon


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Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon is the president of the American Birding Association. There's very little about birds, birding, and birders that he doesn't find fascinating, though he's especially interested in birding culture and the many ways we all communicate our passion for birds, including this Blog.
  • Claire Baker

    Super cool, thanks so much for posting this, Jeff! It’s great to see such a fine young birder experiencing this thrill of the find, yet be so modest and level-headed. This guy has a place in birding history, ABA history, and I hope this bird will be countable for everyone! And good job with the interview, Jeff. I am always excited to see someone birding with such a long time of enjoyment ahead of them. Remind you of the little birder you used to be?? 🙂

  • Just spectacular! Carolina boys doin’ it!!

  • Patch Davis

    Matt! Matt! He’s our man! If anybody can find a (New Mexico Rufous-Necked Wood-Rail) he can!!! Congratulations and thanks from Florida!

  • Donna Madrid-Simonetti

    Thanks Matt! People from all over the country were there this morning to see this beauty! Muchas gracia!

  • Great interview, blog, and photos!

  • James Swanson

    As a Montanan, I was appreciative of Matt’s summer campaign of last year. I don’t know what project he was working on, but he turned in numerous reports to eBird of places all over the state that are seldom birded. Although he only birded the state for a few months, he saw only 36 species less than the top birder in the state. I was barely was able to stay ahead of him in my native county. Thanks Matt for your contribution to knowledge of distribution of species in the underbirded parts of Montana.

  • “I’d be remiss if I didn’t say how proud we all are that Matt honed those skills in part by participating in the ABA’s Young Birder programs”.


    Without any indication to the contrary, isn’t it quite possible that Matt brought his skills and resourcefulness to ABA’s Young Birder programs?

    Why not just give this kid full credit and skip the ABA promotion?

  • Carl

    well said

  • Michael, I don’t think anyone is suggesting that Matt doesn’t deserve full credit for finding, identifying, and sharing this amazing bird. If you listen to the interview, I think Jeff does a good job of discovering that Matt had obviously done of lot of preparation and study on his own and he was “ready” to find this bird.

    Of course, Matt had skills and resourcefulness prior to taking part in an ABA young birder program. “Hone” is the perfect word as it relates to putting a finer edge on what is already functioning as a cutting tool. No one is suggesting that the ABA created or is the sole source of Matt’s abilities.

    Your speculation is like reviewing the career of a successful athlete and suggesting if there is no evidence the training from one particular week ____ years earlier played a role in winning a race today, then that particular week of training should be set aside. Is it theoretically possible? Sure, but what’s the point?

    This IS the ABA Blog and it seems perfectly appropriate for the ABA president to refer to an ABA program, when appropriate. This does nothing to diminish Matt’s accomplishment.

    Does anyone else think it was inappropriate to point the ABA connection?

  • Liz Deluna

    Well said.

  • Matt is now a birding rock star! Thank you, Matt, for finding the bird and for being so gracious to all the birders who have come to see it. We need more young birders like you!

  • Robert Lockett

    I agree with you, Carl. Mention of the ABA Young Birder program seems not just permissible in this context, but actually adds another dimension to the story. And as you point out, the way in which Matt’s participation was featured by Jeff clearly indicated that Matt didn’t get all of his birding expertise from the program.

    I would hope that a young birder watching the video interview and reading the background story might be inspired to participate in ABA’s Young Birder program. That would be a good thing!

  • David

    Does this mean all birders that find rare birds or ABA firsts are going to have videos and pictures of themselves uploaded to the blog? While a fantastic species, and an even more amazing find, I can’t help but wonder why one birder gets the spotlight because of a huge photobomb while others don’t. Not trying to lessen the excitement of this find, but it would seem only fair that if Matt gets recognized, that others would too.

  • We have been tossing around the idea of sort of a “How did you find it?” series of posts recognizing the finders of rare birds and asking them a few questions about the circumstances surrounding their discoveries, but as with most things it can be difficult to find the opportunity to do it in a timely manner.

    I think this one was so convenient because Jeff was down there in the middle of it and it is *such* an exciting bird. A perfect storm as it were.

  • Given that this was such an extremely unlikely occurrence, I think the interview and attention are warranted. Now if this pertained to an “average” rarity or footage of an expected ABA first, maybe not so much but since we are talking about an unexpected first that also happens to be pretty hard to find where it regularly occurs, and then reveals itself like a UFO caught on camera, well, yeah, I am pretty interested in seeing an interview! The magnitude of serendipity necessary to match this crazy find/documentation is going to be hard to come by!

  • Jennifer Rycenga

    Just a spectacular find and a spectacular story!

  • Kristel Bodiford

    Interesting writing . Coincidentally , if your company require to merge two PDF files , my boss merged a service here

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