This shy shorebird, the California clapper rail, is endemic to the San Francisco Bay. It was hunted to near-extinction during the Gold Rush, and in the 20th century, as coastal marshland was filled and turned into real estate, the remaining clapper rails lost most of their habitat. Fifteen years ago, when biologists counted only 13 clapper rails in Oakland's Arrowhead Marsh, the species seemed doomed. But the feisty bird wasn't ready for eternity. As a few key wetlands around the Bay have been restored and protected, the clapper rail is attempting a recovery.
Last week I was walking through Arrowhead Marsh and idly looking at birds -- willets, marbled godwits, black-necked stilts -- when I saw one that looked a little different; kind of like a compact, long-billed hen. I peered at it. Could it be? A nearby birder handed me his binoculars. "Yes," he said with a rapturous smile. "It's a California clapper rail." We watched the bird in silence. Then another clapper rail poked its head out of the reeds to join its mate, and the two of them foraged in the mud. The most ordinary sight in the world, but it felt like a miracle.