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In the years I've been birding, snipe have always been mysterious, elusive creatures that I hear but don't see--or, more commonly, don't detect in any way at all. Although they're marsh birds, none of the many marshes I've explored in Stony Swamp seem to have snipe. At Shirley's Bay I've heard the sound of their winnowing after sunset, but almost never see them. I've seen them far in the distance once or twice in South March Highlands.

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All that changed a week ago. I visited Bill Mason Centre at sunrise and found, not merely a sufficiency of snipe, not merely an abundance of snipe, but the motherload of snipe. Clearly that wetland is prime habitat, though why, I don't know. (I will say it feels very primeval. Like a place that humans have never interfered with, never despoiled.) They were everywhere, calling from the marsh, perching on the boardwalk railings, flying back and forth, and winnowing overhead all morning. It was incredible. Most incredible was the tameness of this so-often-elusive bird, allowing me to approach to within ten feet for close-up photographs. I can only guess that the schoolchildren who use these trails as an outdoor classroom have habituated the birds to human company.

Snipe are unique members of the sandpiper family. While most of their relatives are coastal in the winter and breed in the far north, snipe are widely distributed inhabitants of freshwater wetlands. Their long bills are used to probe the mud for worms and other invertebrates. When flushed, they burst suddenly out of cover and fly away in a zig-zag pattern. I've read that the word "sniper" originally comes from them: if you're good enough to successfully hunt snipe, you're an expert marksman!

Snipe declare their territory by circling overhead in display flight. Air moving through the specialized tail feathers produces an eerie, tremulous "whoo-oo-whoo-oo" sound called winnowing. It can be heard from quite a distance away.

Blanding's Turtle at Carp RidgeBlue Flag


June 26th, 2013 at 1:02 pm
Nice catch... do these photos make you a sniper?

July 3rd, 2013 at 5:05 pm
Wow! I usually hear two or three snipe at the Bill Mason Center, but I've never seen them perching on the boardwalk rails! Awesome photos - they really posed for you! Perhaps their young have fledged and that's why there are so many?

I have also heard them winnowing at the Beaver Trail once or twice, but no, there don't seem to be any at Stony Swamp for some reason.

July 3rd, 2013 at 7:06 pm
Thanks! I don't know why they were so bold and visible. I thought maybe this was normal for the ones at Bill Mason Centre, but it sounds like not. Testosterone fever, perhaps? :-) Most of the perching birds I saw, if I kept my distance, would start doing their "chip-a chip-a chip-a" mating call. When I saw them flying low, it was usually because one was chasing another. They were very vocal even while in the water.

For reference, the photos were taken June 15th even though this post is dated the 23rd. Don't know if that's always the right window, but I'll certainly try it next year!