Guest Post: Searching for Black Rails at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge


Friends, I'm excited to introduce Andy Wraithmell, Wildlife Viewing Information Specialist with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. Andy's an avid birder and wildlife viewer and will be sharing his stories and information about the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail here with us from time to time. I hope you enjoy his posts!

Am I sane? I contemplated this question while walking along the edge of a salt marsh at 5:45 a.m. yesterday. I was searching for Black Rails! For what? Black Rails are small sparrow-sized birds that inhabit marshes. Getting a glimpse of one is difficult at best, and birders in Florida consider the Black Rail to be the hardest species to add to their life list. Most encounters are serendipitous and fortune often favors the early riser. The best time to see one is the 30-minute period either side of sunrise, which is why my friend and I were at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge at dawn. “What’s that?” We raised our binoculars to see a small bird scurrying across the mud! It was hard to identify at first, due to the low light, but as it came closer my heart beat quickened. ”Swamp Sparrow”, we both said gloomily. Fortune did not favor this pair of early risers. However, an early morning walk at St. Marks is never dull; Virginia Rail, Clapper Rail, Wood Stork and Marsh Wren all showed well and a Bobcat ran by, no doubt hoping he would find a bird to enjoy too!

St. Marks NWR is a designated gateway site on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. To better introduce visitors to the trail, we have nine gateway sites that offer exceptional birding and wildlife viewing opportunities. Gateways have staffed visitor centers and serve as hubs for trail information. Each gateway has a special kiosk with birdwatching tips and introductory information regarding the trail. Loaner optics can be checked out at all gateway locations for free with a driver’s license or major credit card. 

For more information about the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, contact Andy Wraithmell at 850-488-9453 or send an email to

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