Birders pursue rare bird in Clayton County

During an Atlanta Audubon Society field trip last weekend in Clayton County, our leaders Carol Lambert and Jeff Sewell told us chances were good that we would see a bird many of us had never seen before, a limpkin.

The authoritative “Birds of North America Online” describes the limpkin as “one of North America’s most curious birds, singular in appearance and unusual in its diet.” A large, nocturnal bird of freshwater marshes, swamps and lake edges, the limpkin looks like a cross between a rail and a heron, well camouflaged in brown with spots of white.

The male’s piercing, banshee-like wails also are distinctive. The sound of several male limpkins calling at once is said to be one of nature’s weirdest cacophonies.

The bird’s native range is the tropics as far south as Argentina, where it finds its preferred food, apple snails. In the United States, it occurs almost exclusively in South Florida, but on rare occasions, it may show up in South Georgia and, even more rarely, in the Atlanta area.

Several weeks ago, three limpkins mysteriously showed up at Lake Blalock, a reservoir owned and managed by the Clayton County Water Authority. The birds have remained there ever since, apparently finding enough snails, mussels and other aquatic creatures to eat.

So, there was an air of excitement last weekend as we carpooled to the lake to see if we could spot the birds. At our first stop, a fishing cove, we had no luck and were beginning to think the birds would be a no-show.

Then, a fellow birder saw a limpkin fly in and set down in a thicket at water’s edge on the other side of the cove. We quickly grabbed our scopes, binoculars and cameras and sped over there, where several of us happily got our first view ever of a limpkin.

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The Draconid meteor shower, visible this weekend, reaches a maximum of 20 meteors per hour tonight. Look to the north throughout the night.

The moon will be full on Wednesday. Mercury is low in the east just before dawn. Venus and Mars rise in the east about an hour before dawn. Jupiter is in the west at dusk and sets about two hours later. Saturn is low in the southwest at dusk and sets in the west just before midnight.