Thursday, December 23, 2010

Waders: Snipe

One of my goals this trip was to get some more experience of Latham's Snipe. Latham's Snipe is an anomaly among the region's waders. It breeds commonly in parts of north-east Asia and Japan, and is the commonest snipe occurring in eastern Australia in the non-breeding season. However, there are no records at all from South-east Asia or Borneo. While the majority presumably fly straight over or pass further east, I find it hard to believe that bad weather or other circumstances don't occasionally deposit one or two in Sabah at least.

I was largely undone by the excessive rainfall in Victoria and NSW, which meant that the snipe were not restricted to a few well-known sites as is normally the case. I tried hard to find some around the usual haunts in NSW, but muddy fringes had all been flooded out. I was therefore very grateful to Simon Mustoe of Wildiaries for helping me to see my one and only Latham's of the trip, at Edithvale Wetlands in Melbourne.

I realize that it's hard to say too much from just a few photos of one individual, but I was surprised at how distinctive this bird was in flight. Three things struck me as being notably different from Pintail/Swinhoe's Snipe:

1. Relatively narrow, pointed wings
2. Greyish-black (rather than brownish) primaries and secondaries
3. Long 'back-end' projection, resulting in the impression of a 'flying cross'

From the nice fresh look of the wings of this bird, I would say it's a juvenile, so perhaps adults look a little different, as this photo suggests. The other 'fly in the ointment' with this theory is that I've yet to see juvenile Pintail/Swinhoe's in flight. However, I would expect them to show broader, rounder wings than this, with browner remiges.

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