Snipe Hunt

Snipe Hunt

Last year I photographed a Wilson's Snipe out on the Katy Prairie and one of my loyal readers was surprised to learn there really was a bird called "Snipe" and not just a practical joke played on newbies. You know about Snipe Hunts?

An errand into the woods to search for small fictional birds called snipes, but with more of the intent of ditching one's younger, more naive victim than finding snipes.

Some recent trips to Brazos Bend State Park turned up large numbers of wintering Snipes. It was fun to see so many; usually you only find an isolated bird or maybe two.

Pilant Lake is mostly a bog and swamp

Pilant Lake is mostly a bog and swamp

This year the area called Pilant Lake is quite visible from the trail leading to the observation tower at 40-Acre Lake. The water is very low, the vegetation has died back or collapsed and the open mudflats and ponds are full of birds. And some of those birds are Snipes.

Most of these photos are made with the borrowed Sony A700 and the Sony 70-400mm G telephoto. Also evident were numerous sparrows and some wintering warblers. And a surprise.

It was a great weekend for birds. Cool, overcast and morning fog. What more could you ask?

Pilant Lake with Brazos Valley Energy LP plant in the distance Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1600 sec. f/4.5 ISO 1000

Pilant Lake with Brazos Valley Energy LP plant in the distance

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1600 sec. f/4.5 ISO 1000

OK, I know the photo above isn't very artistic or interesting, but it is full of birds! You just have to stand still and look. Throughout the day there were Snipes, Sandpipers, White Ibis and Glossy Ibis, lots of sparrows, Great Blue Herons, Tricolored Herons, and flitting around the edges were Cardinals and Common Yellowthroats! Not to mention Coots and Moorhens.

Male Northern Cardinal all dressed up for breeding Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1000

Male Northern Cardinal all dressed up for breeding

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1000

Like this guy. The Cardinals are looking especially spiffy now that breeding season is coming closer. They looked pretty ragged there for a few months.

Oh, but you can see Cardinals in your backyard. Well, a lot of you can. Not my readers from the Arctic Tundra (AKA Canada) and Europe, sad to say.

So, let's get on with the Snipe Hunt.

Wilson's Snipe, poking in the mud. Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1000

Wilson's Snipe, poking in the mud.

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1000

I have 228 photos of these Snipes. And a lot of them will be deleted (next rainy day) because they are facing away or have their heads buried in the mud or are blocked by some vegetation I didn't see in my excitement.

Wilson's Snipes are not to be confused with the Common Snipe, which lives in Europe and Asia. They used to be considered the same species, but

The Wilson's Snipe was recently recognized as a different species from the Common Snipe of Eurasia. The two snipes look extremely similar, but differ in the shape, patterning, and usually the number of the tail feathers. The Wilson's Snipe typically has 16 tail feathers, whereas the Common Snipe has 14. These numbers vary, however, and a Common Snipe may have from 12 to 18 tail feathers.

Got that? Birding is so ... precise. Details matter.

Snipe yoga Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 800

Snipe yoga

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 800

Snipes have fantastic coloring and camouflage. They are hard to see until they start moving. This one was fairly close and I watched him stretch his right leg and wing, ruffle his feathers and then stretch the other wing and leg. Mostly they just poke in the mud for prey.

That long bill is perfect for probing. The bottom mandible is slightly shorter than the top. It is so flexible, they can open and close the tips without moving the base. And they have sensory pits at the tip of the bill for finding prey in the mud. I know I never saw one hold up anything he intended to eat like I have seen with herons and egrets.

A bit of a dispute Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1000

A bit of a dispute

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1000

Occasionally, two Snipes would overlap in their foraging. When that happened, ruffled feathers, tail display, flapping wings and intimidation occured. The bird on the far right gave up his piece of mudflat and moved on.

So what else did I see at Brazos Bend?

Uncommon Yellowthroat Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1000

Uncommon Yellowthroat

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1000

This is a winter migrant, a Common Yellowthroat. I don't consider it common at all, and dang, they are quick. I would find one in deep brush and follow him until he came to a clearing and then burst shoot as many as I could. This is the male bird, the females are very drab and plain. I read the females seem to prefer males with larger black masks.

Mabel the Moorhen dancing all alone Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 2000

Mabel the Moorhen dancing all alone

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1000 sec. f/5.6 ISO 2000

We have Common Moorhens (or Common Gallinules) year round, but I stopped to watch this one because he appeared to be standing on the water. I think there is a barely submerged log that he is perched on. He did a leg and wing stretch, same as the Snipe and then stood on one leg for a bit. These guys breed at Brazos Bend had have the most spectacularly ugly chicks ever. Now that I have more telephoto reach, I hope to show you some later in the year.

American Bittern doing an Ed Sullivan impersonation (according to an Instagram friend) Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/800 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1600

American Bittern doing an Ed Sullivan impersonation (according to an Instagram friend)

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/800 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1600

My regular readers should recognize this one. Yes, American Bittern. I swear, he was not 10 feet off the trail and people were walking by and never saw him. I really like his stripes and I think this is my first time to actually see those feet. Usually, they are standing in water or half hid by vegetation. Bitterns are most active at dusk, we joke they don't come out to hunt until after 3pm. This one must have been napping, it was around noon when I took this photo. And I got 35 more until he skulked off in the bushes.  Bitterns are another of our winter visitors; they breed further north in the US and Arctic Tundra AKA Canada.  

Oh Wikipedia tells me our Bittern is a bit smaller than the Eurasian or Great Bittern seen in Great Britain. 

On the way home, we stopped to photograph some cows. They promptly moved away from the fence and none of my shots came out all that great.

Walking back to the truck something moved in the grass .....

Garter Snake Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1000

Garter Snake

Sony A700 with 70-400mm 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 ISO 1000

It is a scary, ferocious Garter Snake! I zoomed in on him because it was a Snake, but they aren't poisonous. Actually, after my misadventure in Bear Creek Park last year and getting too close to Water Moccasins, I have a healthy respect for any snake. This one was a big surprise, hiding in the mowed grass, just of the highway. A reminder this is the Wild Kingdom I am exploring and photographing.

Have you ever seen a Snipe? What about snakes? Are you glad my passion is not Herpetology and I show photos of lizards and snakes every week?

Let me know in the Comments. Click on the little balloon icon and sign in as a Guest with any name you choose.

Bolivar North Jetty

Bolivar North Jetty

A Curlew at Galveston East Beach

A Curlew at Galveston East Beach