birding-aus Re: Snipes

Subject: birding-aus Re: Snipes
From: "David Geering"<>
Date: Thu, 18 Mar 1999 08:46:42 +1000

To continue the Snipe thread.

The work that Michael Todd and I did in the Hunter on Latham's Snipe in
1997-98 was essentially a study of the ecological requirements of Latham's
Snipe.  (Actually Michael did most of the hard work - I couldn't commit
myself to the job as I was scheduled to move to Melbourne before the field
work was to be completed, I therefore recommended Michael for the job). The
ultimate goal was to provide data that would assist in the "redevelopment"
of snipe habitat at the Olympic site at Homebush Bay in Sydney.  The
existing wetland used by snipe was destroyed in order to remove
contaminants (heavy metals I think) from the site.

The biggest ask was to determine where snipe were feeding at night.  It was
well known that they vacated their day roost sites at night and returned at
first light.  To do this we decided radio-tracking was the answer.  Snipe
were initially caught at a couple of wetlands in the Shortland (Newcastle)
area but we were worried that the prevailing drought was resulting in the
birds bypassing the Hunter as swamps that usually contained several hundred
birds had only a handful.  Searching further afield we located a wetland
with at least 500 birds (this was the count achieved by members of the
Hunter Bird Observers Club in December 1998 were birds were counted as they
were flushed from one end of the swamp across a disused railway line.  They
had earlier been concentrated by flushing birds from the rest of the
wetland) on the western side of the very large Hexham Swamp.  More birds
were radio-tagged here.  To cut a long story short, some birds left their
day "roost" to feed elsewhere of a night while others remained in the same
swamp.  Feeding habitat did, however, change.  During the day snipe were
often observed feeding in the open probing mud while at night they appeared
to feed largely on insects taken from and around clumps of dense grass.
There was no evidence of them taking earthworms from wet pasture, as has
been commonly reported in the past but this may have been a consequence of
the very dry conditions at the time.

Interesting, some snipe disappeared after tagging (probably still on
migration), others disappeared for a period then re-appeared (despite
searches further afield by Michael, where they went remains a mystery) and
some remained in the same wetland all summer.

The result of all this work has resulted in recommendations that will
greatly assist in the re-construction of a wetland at the Olympic site that
should provide both roost and feeding habitat for Latham's Snipe.

While this work was funded by Environment Australia, the Hunter Bird
Observers Club provided further funding in the form of an Alan Keating
Memorial Grant that assisting in covering certain essential costs that the
limitations of the main grant couldn't.  Along with the logistical support
provided in assisting with counts of the snipe this further stresses the
excellent value and dedication of these regional bird-watching clubs.

David Geering

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