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KLAMATH MARSH NWR:Refuge Home to the Elusive Yellow Rail
California-Nevada Offices , July 16, 2009
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Yellow Rails are very elusive and uncommon in the West.  The Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, near Klamath Falls, Oregon is one of the few spots in the West where Yellow Rails can be found.  The Refuge monitors for the birds every summer, but only late at night and into the early morning hours.  The bird's call is imitated by clicking two rocks together. (Photo credit: FWS and www.audubon.com)
Yellow Rails are very elusive and uncommon in the West. The Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, near Klamath Falls, Oregon is one of the few spots in the West where Yellow Rails can be found. The Refuge monitors for the birds every summer, but only late at night and into the early morning hours. The bird's call is imitated by clicking two rocks together. (Photo credit: FWS and www.audubon.com) - Photo Credit: n/a

The following storywas published June 21, 2009 in the Herald & News of Klamath Falls, Oregon. It is reprinted here with permission. 

Jill AHO, Staff Writer,

Two wildlife biologists have been creeping around in the dark of night at the Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge tapping rocks together.

 

The tapping of the rocks mimics the call of a male yellow rail, a tiny and elusive bird rarely found in the western United States. The Klamath Marsh in northern Klamath County has the largest known population this far west, with the number of nesting pairs estimated to be more than 200.

 

“That’s big,” said Faye Weekley, a wildlife biologist with the Klamath Marsh.

 

Every five years or so, biologists conduct a survey of all the potential habitats for these small birds in the 40,000 -acre refuge, and yearly do smaller counts. The current research is attempting to determine what kind of habitat management practices suit the yellow rail best.

 

David Mauser, a wildlife biologist with the Klamath Basin Wildlife Refuges, has helped with the surveys several times.

 

“Now that we know we have large numbers on the Klamath Marsh, we’re trying to figure out how land management might affect those yellow rails,” Mauser said.

 

“The yellow rails were thought to be extirpated from Oregon since the 1920s,” he said.

 

The yellow rail is an elusive bird found in the Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. Biologists are currently conducting a survey with the hopes of finding what management practices will be best for the bird.

 

Rails were discovered in Oregon at Aspen Lake in 1926 and more were found in the 1950s near Fort Klamath, Weekley said. The birds were first documented in the Klamath Marsh in 1991, with a massive survey conducted in 2006. It was that survey that started to provide a clear view of how many of these birds were using the marsh.

 

“Unless you’re out at night and you know what you’re hearing, you’re not going to know they’re there,” Weekley said. The birds don’t come out during the day, and stay hidden most of the time. “At night they’re calling constantly, if they’re there.”

 

Attractive habitat

 

Yellow rails spend the spring and summer in the marsh raising young and then disappear for the winter. Where they go is unknown. But the marsh has areas of habitat that the rails like, including areas of laid-over vegetation from previous years where they nest.

 

Best practices have yet to be established, because the data set is small, Weekley said. The first complete survey of the yellow rail population was done in 2003.

 

“There’s such a low population, we don’t have a big enough sample size to come up with anything conclusive,” she said. “It does seem to like natural marsh conditions or hayed areas. They seem to be populated more than areas that are heavily grazed.”

 

Grazing, which has not been a part of the Klamath Marsh surveys, is done at the Sycan Marsh, where the second largest known western population of the yellow rail nests.

 

This bird is so cagey, even finding a photograph of it is difficult.

 

“It’s probably one of the least understood birds that there is, at least in North America, because it is so secretive,” Mauser said.

 

Searching at night

 

The biologists wait until 10 p.m. before beginning their treks and follow a grid pattern in their search to keep documentation of location as accurate as possible. They don headlamps and waders and trudge through the boggy land for several hours.

 

“It’s a lot of fumbling around in the dark,” Weekley said. “A lot of cool things happen in the night. You get surprised, and you’re a little on edge because you can’t see. You just hear incredible things and you have no idea what they are. It’s spooky.”

 

While the yellow rail is not listed as endangered or threatened, it is a bird of concern to the Fish and Wildlife Service, Mauser said.  

 


Contact Info: Matt Baun, 530-842-5763, matt_baun@fws.gov



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