Thursday 21 August 2014

The Great Snipe Quest of 2014

I'm on a mission this Autumn to find and photograph as many snipe as possible. The initial goal was to help me learn to age these cryptic birds, but after receiving The Challenge Series book the other day and reading their chapter on aging and separating new world from old world snipe I now have more than one motivator.

The quest got off to a good start today. Of ~25 snipe seen, I managed to photograph 4. No easy feat considering their notoriously skittish nature and amazing camouflauging abilities. The two things in my favour is that they're quite common (even if we don't seem to see very many) and they tend to sit still until you are quite close - so if you find them early, you can get somewhat close for photos.

A lot of conflicting information in the books I own. Some saying they can't be aged reliably at all, others saying they can only be aged in August, another saying about 95% can be aged accurately in August, and 25-95% in the remaining 4 months in the year.

In the field, secondary coverts seem to be the way to age them (if at all possible). Juveniles have a buffy border all along the outer edge of those feathers, whereas adults have a broader buffy region that is more noticeably divided by a black line and is limited to the distal edge of the feather (not along the entire edge)...
Apparently words are incapable of summarizing this feature.

Of the four I photographed, I think this is the only one I might call an adult...  but I can't confirm this:

Clearly I have a lot to learn. Which means more time needed in the field looking at these tough to find birds.

A typical view of a snipe: usually you don't see it, but it sees you...

While sneaking up on the snipe a juvenile Semipalmated Plover was vociferous nearby:
I'll get to writing a post about separating Common Ringed vs Semipalmated Plover. Hopefully it'll be more useful than this one!