Sora Revealed

by Larry on April 10, 2010

Sora Emerging from Cattails at Lema Ranch photos by Larry Jordan

Having seen my first Sora last week, I was determined to get some decent photographs of these seemingly elusive rails.  A good birding friend of mine had seen them several times out in the open, foraging in the shallows of one of the ponds at Lema Ranch (click on photos to enlarge).

Previous to these sightings, I had only heard the Sora but never seen one.  This isn’t surprising because these rather secretive birds are more often heard than seen. Courtesy of Xeno-Canto, recorded by Robin Carter of the United States

Being about the size of a Red-winged Blackbird but with plumage giving it much better camouflage in the shallows near the cattails, the little Sora is not obvious.

As we approached the pond, my sharp-eyed companion began to explain to me how this bird was right out on the shore when she saw it.  Then she exclaimed “there it is!”

Well, I thought she was joking, but sure enough, there it was, foraging on the shore, just like she said it would be.  Amazing!  I tried to get close enough for a photo but the bird disappeared back into the cattails.

I decided to sit down near the shore hoping the birding Gods would smile on me and give me a photo op as my friend searched the other end of the pond where she had seen another Sora being chased by a pair of Common Moorhens a few days before.

Within minutes, this beautiful little Sora emerged from the cattails and began pulling up plant refuse on the shore.  As stated by Birds of North America Online, Sora feed on “seeds of wetland plants and aquatic invertebrates” and “search for food by raking floating vegetation with feet or pulling aside vegetation with bill and visually searching for food. Uses its short, chicken-like bill to peck from substrate or water surface.”

After about five minutes of foraging on the shore, this bird retreated back into the cattails.  I posted this photo so you could see the buffy orange colored undertail coverts as it finally moved away from my clicking shutter.

We made our way to the other end of the pond where we saw two other Soras out in the open and I saw one of them being chased from the cattails by a Common Moorhen.

I believe these birds are currently involved in nesting behavior since cattails are their prefered nesting habitat and they have been seen in the same location for weeks now.  Luckily for me, the Sora is a year round resident of the California Central Valley.

They typically lay 8 to 11 eggs per clutch which take 16 to 19 days to hatch.  I’m thinking that it shouldn’t be hard to hear the peeping of that many little chicks that may be hatching in the next couple of weeks :-)  I’ll be watching and listening.  Until then…

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

NicoleB, Egypt April 11, 2010 at 12:13 am

It’s a great feeling when you ‘catch’ a bird for the first time, no?
And this one is really gorgeous. All those colours on birds always amaze me!
.-= NicoleB, Egypt´s last blog ..Osprey at Lunchbreak =-.

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eileen April 11, 2010 at 1:37 am

Congrats Larry, they are cool birds. I have yet to see one myself. Maybe someday. Great photos of these secretive birds.
.-= eileen´s last blog ..Costa Rica Bird…Part 4 =-.

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Corey April 11, 2010 at 2:11 am

Once again, patience and persistence pay off. Nice shots, and well deserved!

Now I am going to have to go back into my (thin) Sora photo archive and see if I have any shots that show those undertail coverts.
.-= Corey´s last blog ..Dawn sky over Great Chalfield =-.

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Wren April 11, 2010 at 6:08 am

Larry, I love the sit and wait approach. So glad it paid off with good views of this one, and can’t wait for photos of chicks!
.-= Wren´s last blog ..one can never have too many orchids =-.

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Larry April 11, 2010 at 6:47 am

@Nicole yes it is nice to finally see a bird you have only heard calling in the wild

@Corey thank you very much. I’m sure you must have some butt shots of Soras!

@Wren I agree. When you sit and wait for the birds to come to you, you are able to learn so much about bird behavior. Not only the behavior of the species you are waiting for but all the other species you observe while you wait

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Idaho_Birder April 11, 2010 at 7:03 am

When I lived in Mesa, AZ and first getting into birding, my favorite spot was the Salt River, just five minutes north of my home. Before I knew they were elusive and hard to find, I saw Sora regularly foraging along the marshy edge of the river. I was to ignorant to know that I was seeing something special. Now I live in Idaho and discovering Sora is extra special. I was just looking for them two days ago. Found lots of Virginia Rails, but no Sora…yet!
.-= Idaho_Birder´s last blog ..Idaho eBird Stats =-.

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Klaus April 11, 2010 at 8:15 am

Good job! Interesting that the coloration of Soras in your area varies from ours here in FL.
Ours don’t have this prominent bluish grey tint – the darker and more brownish.

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Frank Kratofil April 11, 2010 at 10:00 am

I am so surprised that you found one there. Great series of photos and behaviour. I would like to know where he is and maybe get a photo op. Great work Larry
.-= Frank Kratofil´s last blog ..20100410-DSC_6009-2 =-.

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Mick April 11, 2010 at 10:43 am

That coloring would provide very good camouflage so you were lucky to have the bird come right out in the open for you. Great photos and nice that you included the last one showing the orange under the tail. I certainly hope you can get some when the chicks come!
.-= Mick´s last blog ..Bush Stone-curlew =-.

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Larry April 11, 2010 at 2:22 pm

@Eileen thank you very much. Keep looking, I’m sure you’ll find one

@Robert it’s funny how we sometimes take “common” or plentiful birds for granted when others have never seen them. I imagine if you’re seeing Virginia Rails, the Sora isn’t far behind

@Klaus that is interesting. I know the juveniles are more brown that gray but these being the first I have seen, I have nothing to compare them to :-)

@Frank thanks for stopping by with a comment. Knowing the kind of person and the type of photographer you are, I will be happy to show you where they are

@Mick you are right about the camouflage. Lucky for me I had a very sharp birder with me who spotted the bird right away. The Sora was very cooperative as well

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MaineBirder April 11, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Congrats on the new bird Larry! And you have some great photos to show for it!
.-= MaineBirder´s last blog ..Spring in Maine – Birds =-.

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Jill April 11, 2010 at 8:39 pm

Larry! Too cool that you were able to get multiple photos, wow! i definitely had never had any luck with these guys. We saw one last week for about a half of a second. The pictures are great..right out in the open, crazy stuff! I really hope you get some chick photos, too! Great post!
.-= Jill´s last blog ..Sluggers =-.

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Bob K April 12, 2010 at 1:46 am

Congratulations, Larry on finally seeing (and photographing!!) the Sora.

I was lucky enough to see them at Upper Newport Bay a couple years ago.
.-= Bob K´s last blog ..White-eyed in Wonder =-.

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The Early Birder April 12, 2010 at 5:41 am

Now that is one Rail I haven’t seen…yet. Congrats on your recent sighting and the photos Larry. Now you’ve got your eye in on the Sora I’m sure more sightings will regularly come your way. Cheers Frank.
.-= The Early Birder´s last blog ..Time with a Grey Heron. =-.

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jason April 12, 2010 at 12:27 pm

Gorgeous shots, Larry! Wow. What a beautiful bird.

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Blessing Reflections April 12, 2010 at 4:22 pm

How beautiful! The design on the feather is like a piece of art.
.-= Blessing Reflections´s last blog ..Fancy Red and Yellow Flower =-.

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Amy April 12, 2010 at 5:49 pm

What a treat to see such a secretive little bird! Well done on the photos.

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Debra April 13, 2010 at 12:20 am

What a pretty bird and so colorful too! I love the blue and brown on it’s body with that yellow beak and are those legs green? How cool is that? I would have been excited to see this bird too and I’m so glad you were able to get some great shots of it.

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chris April 13, 2010 at 1:57 am

Hi Larry,
Well done mate, first for the observation and second to get these nice shots. It’s easier when you go with a friend sometime! your pictures are very nice, and I discovered a new species ;-)
.-= chris´s last blog ..Dedicate to Shelley!/Dédicace pour Shelley! =-.

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NatureFooostep Fåglar/Birds April 14, 2010 at 12:49 am

we have a similar one in Sweden, but I have not seen it yet. Hope to soon. They seem to be nice birds.
.-= NatureFooostep Fåglar/Birds´s last blog ..Bergfink – Brambling =-.

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flowergirl April 16, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Thanks. I had no idea there was a bird by this name!
.-= flowergirl´s last blog ..The silly seed rhyme =-.

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Out walking the dog April 17, 2010 at 7:45 am

Your post is the next best thing to actually seeing the bird! Thanks.

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Amber Coakley April 17, 2010 at 11:54 am

A Sora! I am so glad you have included a sample of Sora calls as well, since that sounds sort-of familiar. I was with a group of Master Naturalists more than a year ago when I heard a Sora. One of my friends spotted the Sora – briefly, of course. She asked me if I had seen the Sora in excited yet hushed tones, conveying the specialness of the event. I have still not seen one, but I will definitely know the import of the event when I finally do see one someday.

They are absolutely gorgeous. I’m curious to see if the Sora’s in North Central Texas exhibit color variations, as does Klaus in Florida.

Congrats of the great photos – I am going to send a link to my friend who first told me about Soras.
.-= Amber Coakley´s last blog ..Red-winged Blackbirds =-.

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