Hello Again Snipers (and Canberra bird chatline members),
Well what a weekend we just had for our first catch of the season.
On Thursday 28th Nov we constructed an indoor wetland in the education room at the Wetlands offices which consisted of a tent, with a mud floor, trays of mud, a variety of wetland plants, a nest cam, shade cloth on the windows,
and lots of insects (my job was to pick the maggots out of the compost bin which I very quickly wished I hadn’t left unemptied for so long). Thank god we had some help from the participants of our Culture Talks programs (which engages Indigenous people leaving
prison or on pre-release, in ‘On-Country’ activities to help heal from trauma and start to rebuild their lives – but I digress as that is another story).
Anyway suffice to say the wetland was set up, lead researcher Birgita Hansen was flown in (along with other helpers from various bird groups including COG and the Victorian and Queensland Wader Bird study groups who fortunately are here
in Canberra) and we were set to go.
Researchers, staff and volunteers set up camp for the 3 day catch, fighting over prime space on the office floor (politely) and assembling at dusk to watch for the Snipe to leave their roosting sites. Strangely (or not so strangely given
the dry conditions affecting Kelly’s Swamp) there were very few birds leave for the evening, and none at the southern end of Kelly’s where we often catch quite successfully. There were a couple of birds near the Snipe hide Islands and a couple from up near
the car yards but that was it. Via an educated guess we decided to set up mist nets along the island in front of the Snipe hide. At 11pm we were done and off for a few hours sleep. Up again at 4am to unfurl the nets and wait for the birds to come back. A worry
because not many birds came back – even less than were observed leaving the night before. We did not hold much hope. At 5.15am the crew assembled in a line and walked towards the nets and to our surprise we had caught 3 Snipe (and a Dotteral which we released).
We weighed and measured the Snipe and found that one was large enough to carry a satellite transmitter (the tracker and harness needs to be less than 3% of the birds body weight), attached via a light flexible harness (custom-designed and
successfully used the last season). We called this bird ‘Kineki’ which means ‘a miracle’ in Japanese to reference the challenging catch conditions. The other 2 Snipe were banded and released. They were far too small (another worrying factor that is perhaps
explained by the season) to wear a transmitter. We then released Kineki into the indoor wetland to watch her for 24 hours to make sure her harness was comfortable. This approach was tested last season and determined to work well with our Snipe ‘Nintai’ who
we tracked to the highlands of Papua New Guinea via Mackay in Queensland. We watched Kineki continuously in shifts via the nest cam from the adjacent room and recorded her every move. She seemed to be going well (eating and preening and moving around the wetland).
The next night we repeated the actions of Night 1 (with a hoard of Lake Burley Griffin Sea Scouts among other volunteers helping out), but this time we set up the nets at the car yard wetland. Still no birds spotted at the southern end
of Kelly’s. Unfortunately we were not successful and in the morning only flushed 1 Snipe which went over the nets. This has been a good catch site in the past. To make matters worse we observed that Kineki (who was still housed in the indoor wetland) was not
happy with her harness and did not settle into it. She also lost some weight so we decided we would let her go without the harness. This is always a hard decision when so much work goes in, but the welfare of the bird had to come first. We were disappointed,
but after working on the Latham’s Snipe project for the past 4 years, one gets very philosophical. There are also now another 3 birds with leg flags getting around the Wetlands so we need to keep an eye out for them.
Luckily for us, the Scouts and volunteers hung around to de-construct the indoor wetland, and did so with an unprecedented amount of laughter – more than warranted for the task at hand. Well at least they didn’t have to pick bugs out of
the compost I suppose.
I would like to thank the many people involved and we continue to welcome new faces. Our next catch is planned for the 7-9th Jan 2020 and we will be accompanied by our Japanese counterparts (the Wild Bird Society of Japan) and
some of their ‘Young Rangers’ who we worked with when we travelled over to help with their Snipe surveys in Hokkaido last year. We will be holding a bit of a get-together at the wetlands on the last night of the catch and all will be welcome, including our
birders and photographers who are continually sending in reports of flagged Snipe.
On a related note, we would like to get a sense of where the Snipe are roosting in the lead up to this catch so please keep sending in those photos and reports.
Woodlands and Wetlands Trust (Jerrabomberra Wetlands)
M: 0439 030 058
PO Box 58 Fyshwick ACT 2609