Sunday, July 28, 2013

Fonseca Rails

I've written here a couple of times before about the Clapper Rails of the Gulf of Fonseca. I've even written a short note documenting breeding in Honduras for El Esmeralda, the bulletin of the Asociación Hondureña de Ornitología (ASHO).

Clapper Rail was first found and documented in the Honduran part of the Gulf of Fonseca in 2010, by Robert Gallardo and Mayron Mejía. In 2012, the species was first reported from the Nicaraguan side of the Gulf by Jens Olek Byskov, Salvadora Morales, Orlando Jarquín and Juan Carlos Alaniz, and in 2013, Oliver Komar, Roselvy Juárez and I found it on the Salvadoran part of the Gulf.

I corresponded about these birds with James Maley, a rail researcher from the University of Wyoming, who expressed an interest in sampling specimens from this population. Together, we wrote a research proposal which we submitted to ICF, the Honduran governmental organization in charge of research permits. James is here right now and we have just finished a week of field work, in which we collected a total of 8 specimens. This series will be used for a taxonomic description of this population.

This week, with the help of playback, we got a sense of how common this species really is in the Gulf of Fonseca. For example, one transect that was about 450 m long had an estimated 15 pairs and 3 single individuals – that's 33 individuals, on a relatively small stretch of mangrove. In some parts, densities seemed so high that we wondered if Clapper Rail was perhaps the second most common species there, after (Mangrove) Yellow Warbler! While few birders or biologists have seen this species in Honduras, most locals that we talked to in the salt ponds and shrimp farms of the area knew the bird well. One of them assisted us with field work, and he told us those birds have been common there for as long as he could remember – at least 40 years!

Remarkable then that this population, apparently never rare, went undiscovered for so long. Given available habitat and abundant food resources, there are probably thousands if not tens of thousands of these rails in the Gulf of Fonseca.