On the morning of March 17, a cold and snowy day here in upstate New York, a friend alerted me to the presence of a Wilson’s Snipe, feeding along the shoreline of a small pool next to a country road. I arrived about an hour later and scanned the pool for the snipe. At first I didn’t see it, but then I noticed some movement behind a clump of vegetation. In short order, the snipe walked out into the open, bobbing up-and-down like a silly toy, all the while poking its long bill into the mud in search of insect larvae and other invertebrates.
I was surprised to see the bobbing motion. I’ve watched many an American Woodcock (a relative of the snipe) bobbing up-and-down as they walk about on the ground, but I didn’t realize that the Wilson’s Snipe exhibits similar behavior, at least some of the time. It was quite laughable to watch, and I have no idea what its true purpose is (although the motion may startle prey into moving). What a funny-looking bird. One cannot help but smile when watching it dance.
To document the bobbing, I placed my video camera on a beanbag set atop the bottom edge of my open car window. He was in the open only for about a minute, disappearing a short time later behind thick vegetation. It was blustery and cold, so I rolled up my window and quickly drove home to a hot cup of tea.
The Wilson’s Snipe is named after Alexander Wilson (1766-1813), an early American ornithologist, poet and naturalist. It is a member of the shorebird family and breeds in marshes, wet meadows, and bogs across much of Canada and the northern United States.
During breeding season, the male flies overhead in the twilight of dusk and dawn, periodically swooping downward and making an eerie winnowing caused by wind rushing through its spread tail feathers. Listen for the winnowing in the following soundscape, recorded in early May of 2014 (the nasal peents and flight twitter of an American Woodcock can also be heard):
Soundscape featuring a Wilson’s Snipe aerial display (winnowing). 7 May 2014, 5:30am, near Ithaca, New York. © Lang Elliott. Listen also for calls or songs of Spring Peeper, American Woodcock, Swamp Sparrow, Green Frog, Red-winged Blackbird, and one drum of a Ruffed Grouse (near end).
It’s not truly spring for me here in Saskatchewan until I hear the Wilson’s Snipe winnow and last few weeks I’m thrilled to say I have! I love this close up capture on camera you got of what I’ve marveled seeing through my scope. Such a celebration of the joy of nature’s beauty to explore your website continues to be for me.
I meant the soundscape audio recording. Is that one stereo track or is that what you are referring to?
Ah, the sound of snow falling. So nice.
Chris: The snow falling is one stereo track, but I added some crow sounds to it in order to jazz it up a bit.
Once again, you have reminded how much joy can be found in just one bird. So many birders compete to accumulate the greatest number of “ticks,” but your posts always reinspire me to find the wonder that’s hiding in plain sight. Thank you.
Thanks Dave … and that is exactly the point of Miracle of Nature, to find pleasure in nature near at hand, in both the commonplace and unusual that can be found in one’s backyard.
Love this Lang. Is this recording as found or multiple recordings layered together? Kind of amazing 🙂
Chris: The soundtrack was added. It’s snow falling in a nearby woods, plus some added crow. The onboard sound was completely unusable because there was a busy road nearby, plus a constant and variable rumble coming from an industrial area. In most cases, it is very difficult to get good onboard sound, thereby making it necessary to collect sound separately and then add it back to the video in post (exception: many frogs and insects, where you can get real close with the camera and mic).