Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Episode 530 (6-22-20): Virginia Rails in Sound and Music

Click to listen to episode (4:16)

Sections below are the following:
Transcript of Audio
Audio Notes and Acknowledgments
Extra Information
Related Water Radio Episodes
For Virginia Teachers (Relevant SOLs, etc.)

Unless otherwise noted, all Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 6-19-20.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of June 22, 2020. This is a revised version of an episode from June 2013.

MUSIC – ~7 sec – instrumental

This week, that music opens an episode about wetland-inhabiting birds known for thinness, secrecy, and silent running among marshy vegetation.  Have a listen for about 10 seconds to this week’s mystery sounds, and see if you know this kind of bird.  And here’s a hint: this creature shares its name with a type of fence and with the track of an iron horse.  After the sounds, you’ll hear about 25 seconds more of the music, done by a Virginia composer in honor of the sound-maker.

SOUNDS AND MUSIC - ~36 sec - ~10 sec sound, then ~26 sec music (instrumental)

If you guessed rails, you’re right!  You heard a Virginia Rail, in a recording by Lang Elliott from the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs, and the music was “Virginia Rail Reel,” by Timothy Seaman of Williamsburg, on the 2004 album, “Virginia Wildlife.”  The Virginia Rail is one of nine species in Virginia in the bird family of rails, gallinules, and coots.  From the Clapper Rail to the Purple Gallinule to the Common Moorhen, rails have descriptive names, distinctive calls, and adaptations well-suited to marshy habitats.  It’s questionable whether the expression “thin as a rail” refers to this family of birds, rather than to pieces of a fence.  But there’s no question that rails’ thin bodies allow them to run, swim, feed, and nest within the dense grasses and other plants of saltwater and freshwater marshes.

Of the Virginia Rail, here’s some of what 19th-Century naturalist John James Audubon wrote: quote, “Excepting our Little Partridge, I know no small bird so swift of foot as the Virginian Rail. …[A]among the thick herbage to which they usually resort, …they run to a short distance, then tack about, and again scud away in a lateral direction, so as to elude the best dog, or if likely to be overtaken, rise on wing, fly with dangling legs eight or ten yards, drop among the weeds, and run off as swiftly as before.”

Thanks to Lang Elliott for permission to use the Virginia Rail sounds.  Thanks also to Timothy Seaman for permission to use this week’s music, and we close with a few more seconds of “Virginia Rail Reel.”

MUSIC - ~11 sec – instrumental


Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  For more Virginia water sounds, music, or information, visit us online at virginiawaterradio.org, or call the Water Center at (540) 231-5624.  Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close this show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


This Virginia Water Radio episode revises and replaces Episode 165, 6-10-13.

The Virginia Rail sounds were taken from the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs-Eastern Region CD set, by Lang Elliott with Donald and Lillian Stokes (Time Warner Audio Books, copyright 1997), used with permission of Lang Elliott.  Lang Elliot’s work is available online at the “Music of Nature” Web site, http://www.musicofnature.org/.

“Virginia Rail Reel” (part of the medley “Virginia Rail Reel/Ducks on the Pond/Old Blue”), from the 2004 CD “Virginia Wildlife,” is copyright by Timothy Seaman and Pine Wind Music, used with permission.  Mr. Seaman’s Web site is http://www.timothyseaman.com/.  The “Virginia Wildlife” CD was a collaboration between Mr. Seaman and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (1 min./11 sec.) of the “Cripple Creek” arrangement/performance by Stewart Scales that opens and closes this episode.  More information about Mr. Scales and the group New Standard, with which Mr. Scales plays, is available online at http://newstandardbluegrass.com.


Virginia Rail in 2010, location not identified. Photo by Dave Menke, made available for public use by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Digital Library, online at http://digitalmedia.fws.gov; specific URL for this photo was https://digitalmedia.fws.gov/digital/collection/natdiglib/id/12858/rec/1, as of 6-22-20.

Virginian Rail (now Virginia Rail) painting originally published between 1827 and 1838 by John James Audubon in Birds of America (plate CCV [205]), as reprinted in 1985 by Abbeville Press, New York.  Image made available for public use by the Audubon Society, online at https://www.audubon.org/birds-of-america; specific URL for this image is https://www.audubon.org/birds-of-america/virginia-rail, as of 6-19-20.

Map of the occurrence in Virginia of the Virginia Rail. Map accessed at the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ “Fish and Wildlife Information Service,” online at https://vafwis.dgif.virginia.gov/fwis/booklet.html?Menu=_.Occurrence&bova=040107&version=18432.


The Virginia Rail’s scientific name is Rallus limicola.

The following information on the Virginia Rail is from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ “Fish and Wildlife Information Service,” online at https://vafwis.dgif.virginia.gov/fwis/booklet.html?&bova=040107&Menu=_.Taxonomy&version=18432.

Physical Description
“[S]mall; 9-11 inches…; long, reddish bill, rusty underparts, gray cheeks.”

Reproduction and Nesting
“[B]reeding season in VA [is] May to June; incubation period unknown, but not less than 15 days; eggs 5-12…; breeding behavior secretive and highly territorial, solitary nesters… Nesting is solitary, nests almost always in freshwater marsh or near fresh water though also known to nest in brackish marshes. Nesting materials: coarse grass and cattails; shallow saucer woven into surrounding marsh vegetation….”

“Territoriality and home range very strong. Territoriality peaks in May and decreases to eventual winter core areas…. Forages by probing mud and extracting worms and insects. Feeds on a range of prey items including small fish, worms, larval insects, snails, slugs, caterpillars, beetles, and occasionally seeds of grasses, etc.; plant material is infrequently used; they forage in shallow water or mud by gleaning or probing. Probable predators include gulls, raccoons, fish crows, snakes, owls, and hawks.”

Aquatic/Terrestial Associations
[F]reshwater and brackish marshes in winter, may visit salt marshes; prefers dense habitats; commonly found in cattails.”


Used for Audio

John James Audubon, “Virginia Rail,” in Birds of America, Plate 207, accessed from the Audubon Society, online at https://www.audubon.org/birds-of-america/virginia-rail. The quote in the audio was taken from this source.
Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “All About Birds,” online at http://www.allaboutbirds.org.  The Virginia Rail entry is online at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Virginia_Rail/.  Information on the family of rails, gallinules, and coots (scientific name Rallidae), is online at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/browse/taxonomy/Rallidae.

Alice Jane Lippson and Robert L. Lippson, Life in the Chesapeake Bay, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Md., 2006; see particularly pages 232-233.

Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman, “Rail Birds,” published on Grammarphobia, 9/30/07, online at https://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2007/09/rail-birds.html.

Chandler S. Robbins et al., A Guide to Field Identification of Birds of North America, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2001.

Bryan Stevens, ‘Thin as a rail’ applies to elusive marsh bird, even if the origins of phrase remain obscure, Bristol Herald-Courier, 9/9/19.

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ “Fish and Wildlife Information Service” Web page at http://vafwis.org/fwis/?Title=VaFWIS+Species+Information+By+Name&vUT=Visitor.  The Virginia Rail entry is online at https://vafwis.dgif.virginia.gov/fwis/booklet.html?&bova=040107&Menu=_.Taxonomy&version=18432.  Information on all five species in Virginia called “rail” (Clapper Rail, Eastern Black Rail, King Rail, Virginia Rail, and Yellow Rail) is online at this link; information on the Sora, also considered a rail, is online at this link.

For More Information about Birds in Virginia and Elsewhere

Chesapeake Bay Program, “Birds,” online at https://www.chesapeakebay.net/discover/field-guide/all/birds/all.  The Virginia Rail entry is online at https://www.chesapeakebay.net/discover/field-guide/entry/virginia_rail.

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “Merlin Photo ID.”  The application for mobile devices allows users to submit a bird photograph to get identification of the bird. Information is available online at http://merlin.allaboutbirds.org/.

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology and American Ornithologists’ Union, “Birds of the World,” online at https://birdsoftheworld.org/bow/home (subscription required).  The Virginia Rail entry is online at https://birdsoftheworld.org/bow/species/virrai/cur/introduction.

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society, “eBird,” online at https://ebird.org/home.  Here you can find locations of species observations made by contributors, and you can sign up to contribute your own observations.

Stan Tekiela, Birds of Virginia Field Guide, Adventure Publications, Inc., Cambridge, Minn., 2002.

University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, “Animal Diversity Web,” online at https://animaldiversity.org/.

Virginia Society of Ornithology, online at http://www.virginiabirds.org/.  The Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to the study, conservation, and enjoyment of birds in the Commonwealth.

Xeno-canto Foundation Web site, online at http://www.xeno-canto.org/.  This site provides bird songs from around the world.


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (http://www.virginiawaterradio.org/p/index.html).  See particularly the “Birds” subject category.

Following is the link to an episode on the American Coot, another bird in the family that includes rails.
Episode 391, 10-23-17.


Following are some Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs) that may be supported by this episode’s audio/transcript or by other information included in this post.

2013 Music SOLs

SOLs at various grade levels that call for “examining the relationship of music to the other fine arts and other fields of knowledge.”

2010 Science SOLs

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
4.9 – Virginia natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.

Grades K-6 Life Processes Theme
K.7 – basic needs and processes of plants and animals.
1.5 – animals’ basic needs and distinguishing characteristics.
3.4 – behavioral and physiological adaptations.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
2.5 – living things as part of a system, including habitats.
3.5 – food webs.
3.6 – ecosystems, communities, populations, shared resources.
5.5 – cell structures and functions, organism classification, and organism traits.
6.7 – natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Virginia watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; health and safety issues; and water monitoring.

Life Science Course
LS.4 – organisms’ classification based on features.
LS.8 – community and population interactions, including food webs, niches, symbiotic relationships.
LS.9 – adaptations for particular ecosystems’ biotic and abiotic factors, including characteristics of land, marine, and freshwater environments.

Biology Course
BIO.8 – dynamic equilibria and interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems; including nutrient cycling, succession, effects of natural events and human activities, and analysis of the flora, fauna, and microorganisms of Virginia ecosystems.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/.

Following are links to Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels.
Episode 250, 1-26-15 – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 255, 3-2-15 – on density, for 5th and 6th grade.
Episode 282, 9-21-15 – on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten.
Episode 309, 3-28-16 – on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Episode 333, 9-12-16 – on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.
Episode 403, 1-15-18 – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 404, 1-22-18 – on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade.
Episode 406, 2-5-18 – on ice on rivers, for middle school.
Episode 407, 2-12-18 – on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.
Episode 483, 7-29-19 – on buoyancy and drag, for middle school and high school.
Episode 524, 5-11-20 – on sounds by water-related animals, for elementary school through high school.