Thursday, January 18, 2018

Common Gallinule at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge (and a not-so-common Hawaiian connection)

A new species debuts here on the blog today. During our excursion to the Merced National Wildlife Refuge last weekend we saw an unfamiliar "not-quite-a-duck" bird. I had a feeling that I should have known what it was, and finally realized it was a juvenile Common Gallinule (Gallinula galeata). It may be "common", but I think it is the first one I've photographed in California.
The Common Gallinule has been called a Common Moorhen in the past, and the species ranges from Chile to the Canadian border in North America. Strangely enough, while common in the summer across the eastern states, it rarely travels beyond the north end of the Great Valley in California.
The eBird archives indicate that many birders have seen the Gallinules at the Merced Refuge, but few of them report seeing more than one or two individuals at a time. I'll be watching more closely to see if some mature individuals are around next time. They are colorful unique birds.
Hawaiian Moorhen ('Alae 'Ula) on Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands.

It's an odd thing, but I've seen and photographed more Gallinules in Hawai'i than I have in California. Thousands of years ago a few errant individuals survived the long flight to the islands, took up residence in some of the few freshwater marshes on the islands, and evolved over time into a unique subspecies, the 'Alae 'Ula, or Hawaiian Moorhen. They are highly endangered on the islands because of habitat loss (the freshwater marshes have proven expendable in the face of intense development on Oahu and the other islands). There are less than a thousand of them today, and at one point they had declined to 57 individuals.

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