The Bay

Virginia rail peeks through reeds at Lake Merced

December 31, 2012

A Virginia rail made a surprise year-end appearance at Lake Merced in San Francisco.  Local photographer David Cruz snapped these shots and video and sent in this description:

From David Cruz:

Taken 12-29-12 at 9am at Lake Merced, San Francisco. Not endangered although, very secretive and usually heard by expert birders rather than seen (none were visually spotted during the SF Christmas Bird Count). The endangered California clapper rail is in the same order of this bird and is the most morphologically similar species on the planet.  These are the first photographs of this bird in San Francisco County in a very long time, no pictures of this bird in San Francisco existed on the Flickr database before these photos were published.

This morning 12-31-12 shortly after sunrise a Virginia Rail appeared for a few seconds between a gap in the tules at Lake Merced. I remained motionless until I was able to capture a few seconds of video of this notoriously secretive bird. In the last few days I have visited PA Baylands as well as Heron’s Head Park and have had no rails of any species.



Cool facts from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

  • The forehead feathers can withstand wear from pushing through dense marsh vegetation.
  • It can propel itself underwater with its wings to flee predators.
  • Rail species like this one have the highest ratio of leg muscles to flight muscles of any birds.
  • It builds “dummy nests” in addition to the one where it lays eggs.
About the Author

Alison Hawkes was a Bay Nature editor from 2011-2017. Before Bay Nature she worked in journalism for more than a decade as a former newspaper reporter turned radio producer turned web editor with each rendition bringing her closer to her dream of covering environmental issues. She co-founded Way Out West, a site dedicated to covering Bay Area environmental news.