A Morning for Snipe

On this stormy morning at Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area, a dense cloud deck blocked out the April sun, extending the dim light of dawn.  Such conditions are favored by common snipe, chunky, long-billed "shorebirds" that inhabit inland swamps and wetlands of North America and Eurasia.  Breeding in Alaska, Canada and the Pacific Northwest, these reclusive birds winter across central and southern latitudes of our Continent.

A fair number were observed at Eagle Bluffs this morning, probing mudflats and flooded fields for a wide variety of invertebrates.  Drawn from the cover of cattails and marsh grass by the relative darkness (they generally feed at dawn and dusk), the snipe mingled in the shallows with lesser yellowlegs, American golden plovers, killdeer and blue-winged teal.  The latter ducks were abundant at the refuge, outnumbering American coot, northern shovelers, green-winged teal and lesser scaup on the lakes and pools.  A few dozen American white pelicans were present, as were double-crested cormorants, pied-billed grebes and two pairs of wood ducks; nesting bald eagles, great blue herons, tree swallows and a lone great egret rounded out the major sightings.

 As the mild weather of spring intensifies, the common snipe will move on to their northern breeding areas, relishing the cool, damp seclusion of bogs and dense riverine marshlands.  During the fervor of that season, males will emerge to perform nocturnal mating flights, their wings and tail vibrating to produce eerie sounds that echo across the wetlands.