Thursday, July 22, 2010

Snipe, "Common" or "Wilson's"

The past two summers we have been lucky enough to camp in Rocky Mountain National Park and we love it - what a beautiful park with lots to offer.  Anyway, one of the things I love about camping is lying in the tent at night and listening to the natural sounds made by those nocturnal beings that one does not often encounter in the daylight. In the numerous places that I have found myself in a tent, I have heard many sounds that when compounded by the dark, just seem to register in the eerie (not scary) column: owls hooting, deer snorting, loons wailing, wolves howling, coyote's yipping, whip-poor-wills calling, bears woofing, etc. 
 Last summer in Rocky Mt. Nat. Park, one of those "eerie" sounds came from the marshy creek area in the valley below Moraine Park Campground. As soon as I heard it I knew it to be either a snipe or a woodcock, or some such upland marsh bird.  It was a sort of a whooping sound that increased in speed and volume as it carried through the night.  Upon returning to Rockford, Illinois, after the trip, I listened to my bird recordings, and sure enough, it was a Snipe. My Audubon Guide just mentions the Common Snipe, while my Sibley's Guide just mentions the Wilson's Snipe. Then the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's website (btw is a fantastic source) mentions both. They look similar and sound similar. The difference is how many pairs of feathers one has in its tail.

So ... this summer while lying in the tent in the same campground, I was hoping to hear the sound again - and sure enough, on July 7, late at night, I heard the hollow winnowing sound carrying across the valley increasing in speed. It was so eerily cool that I made up my mind that when I have a chance, I will go on this "Snipe hunt."  I have further learned that the sound created by the Snipe is not vocal, but it is created when it flaps its wings to create an airflow over its outstretched tail feathers. Each whooping sound corresponds to each wingbeat. This sound is called "winnowing."
The next day after our daily hike, we had some time before we started dinner, so I took a hike down the valley (the same valley with Magpieville, see my 7-20 post), and as I came closer to the creek, the terrain became very marshy. As I was planning my next move, a coyote loped through the tall grass just yards from me. (Eventhough this is a bird blog, I included a pic of the coyote below 7-8-10).

Okay - back to the Snipe Hunt - I was glad I wore my waterproofs, because I decided to slosh through the marsh and eventually I found a shallow enough section to cross the creek. As I was halfway across the creek, I heard the winnowing of the Snipe - it was close. I was a bit surprised to hear it during sunlit hours. As I pulled myself up over the waist high bank on the other side of the creek, I again heard the winnowing. I gained my footing, and reached for my camera as I scanned the terrain. And not more than 20 yards in front of me, sitting on a dead branch of a low bush was a bird with a long beak eyeing me warily - the Snipe! I was stunned - it sitting out in the open in broad daylight. My heart beat wildly, hoping it would not take flight while I was getting my camera ready. I slowly raised my camera to my eye and It remained still - long enough to for me to click off 4 or 5 shots. Then I thought I'd try to get slightly closer, but soon as I moved, it took off in a low flight beating its wings into the brush. But I couldn't believe my luck that I even saw a Snipe, and hoped at least one of my photos turned out (Below, 7-8-10).

Whoever said "Snipe Hunts" were a wild goose chase, didn't chase the correct "goose."


~Val said...

Great story!!

Anonymous said...

That story had me on pins and needles the whole time...and wow, I could only be so lucky! We leave for Estes tonight, so maybe I will be! Awesome, awesome capture!!!