Average Birding

The Search For (Jack) Snipe

The weekend arrives and presents one final opportunity to add to the March total. Spring is starting to show its face; we opt for a trip to Barnes.

(Yes, yes, the front page picture is a Cetti's, and no, no it isn't from Barnes either, sorry)

Pronoun guidance: AB1 had never self-found a Jack Snipe. This post covers the events of March 31st, 2018.

Early Spring in Barnes

This time, there's no sign of Bittern...but there have been intermittent reports of Jack Snipe. Given the lack of urgency we choose our usual route: Headley, Wildside, visitor centre (option of coffee), meander to Peacock Tower.

An explosion of noise to the left of the Headley hide; a Cetti's warbler is there. Not unusual for Barnes. What is unusual: I can see the little git. They usually hide in the deepest depths of cover, but at this time of the year they pop up a bit more frequently. It's a relief to tick it off so early in the season.

The walk around Wildside is noisy but tick-free. Wildside itself is somewhat better. It overlooks two grassy verges that make up the border of the grazing marsh, and this should be the time of year during which chats, wagtails and wheatear start to turn up. True to form, there is indeed a Wheatear on the left hand verge; it bobs about cautiously near the fence posts that help keep foxes out of the marsh, and is basically charming. We put a few other visitors on to it before heading back to the visitor centre for refreshment.

We take the long way to the Peacock Tower, round the back of the sheltered lagoon. This tends to be good for warblers, and we manage to pick up a Chiffchaff in one of the numerous silver birches. Excellent. We take a brief sojourn in the Wader scrape hide to admire the smattering of sand martins before taking a seat on the top floor of the Peacock Tower.

It's here that the real mission begins - can we find one of these pesky Jack Snipe? I've only ever been shown them before, and never actually found one myself. There are apparently one or two around; they've been seen on the islands of the wader scrape today, according to some folks in the hide.

Best get comfortable; this could take a while. Jack Snipe are smaller than their common brethren, their plumage provides better camouflage and they are typically far less keen to show themselves. There are some Common Snipe around the edges of the island; that's actually quite useful to establish a baseline in terms of scale.

The leftmost island, to me, looks most promising; it has the most cover. The others are really just mud and it's quite easy to see that their only inhabitants are Lapwings and Redshanks. A prolonged scan of the left hand island it is, then.

I catch a glimpse of something that looks a more straw-like brown and with a shorter beak than the Common Snipe. Is it a bird, or is it an assemblage of reedy grass? I try to switch from binoculars to scope and lose all trace of it. Hmm. No, wait, there's something scuttling between those two reedy patches, what's that? It's a Jack Snipe. I emit excited noises, and unilaterally fail to direct AB2 (or anyone else in the hide) on to it.

This is problematic. Everyone in the hide is probably thinking what I think in this situation, i.e: this idiot is making it up - fool! Now I have to find it again, and direct at least two people on to it as well, one of whom must be AB2, or I'll never live this down.

This takes significantly longer. Having just spent twenty whole seconds in the open the Jack Snipe disappears for half an hour. Tireless scanning from yours truly eventually relocates it poking around right at the very back of the island. This time I stay quiet, tighten all the bits of scope I can find to prevent wobble and usher AB2 to have a look through it, which she does ("Oh, it does look totally different; you weren't lying"). A couple of other birders have found it simultaneously, and I can now safely leave free of 'making the whole thing up' suspicion. Relief all round.

March total: 121. Uh-oh, this is looking like a log curve.