Thursday, 14 April 2011

Snipe up close

Adult Common Snipe wing-stretching: note the width of the white trailing edge on the secondaries, as well as the broader white than dark axillary bars and split white 'snowdrop' tips to the upperwing coverts.
Common Snipe is an intriguing species. It's a bird I see quite often, yet rarely very well or in the open. When I do, the more I look the stranger they seem, full of interesting plumage marks and features. Through the lens, when literally focused on composition, such plumage subtleties are less easy to grasp, until I review images later on a large screen.

Up to five Common Snipe were bathing and resting in close proximity.
I took these shots at Rye Meads RSPB, in the Lea Valley in Hertfordshire just north of London, almost a week ago, but have only just found the time to put them up online. I wish the birds on my regular round at Rainham performed like this a bit more often ...

In bathing mode - of dozens of shots, this was about the only one where the bird kept its head still, but 'rolled' its body to allow me to capture movement and water droplets in the air.
On the Birdwatch reader trips I lead to the Azores every October, we always keep a lookout for Wilson's Snipe - an annual Nearctic vagrant in autumn which now numbers more than 100+ records there (including one of a displaying bird). If you're wondering how so many have been identified in the islands, the answer is ... they shoot them! Field ID and obtaining photos is far harder, for obvious reasons, but twice now I've flushed birds with the narrower white trailing edge indicative of Wilson's, one of these birds also being rather 'colder' in plumage tone. On both occasions, however, the snipe flushed far away, landing in inaccessible areas where they could not be easily pursued ... maybe next time.

Give those tail feathers a good preen ... another fascinating thing about Common Snipe is that they normaly have 14 tail feathers, but can have anything between 12 and 18. Go figure!


  1. Super images Dominic and just goes to show the complex feather marking structure that makes this species the camouflage king.

  2. Thanks for the kind comments, Frank. 'Camouflage king' perfectly sums up this species, which is one that always repays closer scrutiny (if only to understand the range of variation it shows)



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