March 9, 2014

Solitary Snipe Special

text & photos by ABu

Solitary Snipe habitat,
Urd Tamir River, Tsetserleg, Feb 2014

Solitary Snipe has always been on my “find it!” list. Not just because I have seen it once before only (in Japan), but mainly for my desire to get some good photographs of this species. The bird I had seen in Japan was feeding at the unreachable side of a small stream which I couldn’t cross. So whenever I was out during wintertime, especially when I was birding along the sewage stream in UB, I kept looking out for it, alas I never found one. The winter 2013/2014 was a mild one, given Mongolian standards: when I arrived at the end of November, the Tuul River here in UB still had open stretches. Temperatures had been rising to above zero (32°F) even in January and the nights had been “warmer” than they had been during previous winters. Only from 30 January to mid-February the night temperatures had fallen below minus 30°C (-22°F).

Temperature is one factor, water flow is another. The summers of 2012 and 2013 can be considered as wet summers, especially that of 2013. In summer, the water level of the Tuul River was too high to allow me to walk my standard transect along it. If this held true for other regions of Mongolia, then the combined factors made the winter of 2013/2014 an ideal one for finding a Solitary Snipe. Yet it was up to me to check out the right stretch of the right river.

Of course I started nearby at the Tuul River: Nothing, not even a White-throated Dipper (another species which I have been waiting for here in UB since a while).

Then the sewage stream: Nothing.

The only other chance that arose was on 9 February during the winter birding trip with other members of the Birdwatching Club of Mongolia. On that day I finally found one quietly feeding at the Urd Tamir River, just 2 km south of the city of Tsetserleg. Bingo! Tsaaa!

I approached the snipe in slow motion, but as the ground was covered with snow it was impossible to do so silently. Always when I started to move forward, the snipe stopped foraging and did not move a feather. This clearly was a sign of discomfort. I stopped and did not move a muscle (thanks to the lack of feathers I had to adopt a slightly modified strategy). After a few seconds it was apparently convinced that I would not pose any harm, and feeding in the shallows continued. Now it was up to me to move in closer and so I did. The snipe interrupted foraging again. And I stood still again until it was feeding again. The distance between me and the bird was still too big to get good pictures. The game between the snipe and me went on for long until I finally got almost close enough, I thought. That was a bit too close for the snipe. It stretched one wing and then performed a double wing flap. This behavior is shown by many species of wader just when they intend to take flight. But that was the last thing I wanted to happen. Time for my retreat! I did so as slow as I had moved in. As soon as the snipe was feeding again I started closing the gap step by step again. It took maybe five or six more times to freeze until I was only 15 m from the bird. Every now and then, when I watched it motionless, I had fired series of shots. Now I was close enough but had not enough light anymore.

Solitary Snipe, stretching one wing,
Urd Tamir River, Tsetserleg, Feb 2014

Solitary Snipe, double wing flap,
Urd Tamir River, Tsetserleg, Feb 2014

Solitary Snipe, hind view,
Urd Tamir River, Tsetserleg, Feb 2014

Solitary Snipe, checking out my lens,
Urd Tamir River, Tsetserleg, Feb 2014

At times the snipe got alert and then moved a bit before it started feeding again. I could not figure out what it actually caught. Luckily I am not working on this species’ diet…

Solitary Snipe, moving to another foraging spot,
Urd Tamir River, Tsetserleg, Feb 2014

Solitary Snipe, closing its eyes while feeding,
Urd Tamir River, Tsetserleg, Feb 2014

Solitary Snipe
Urd Tamir River, Tsetserleg, Feb 2014

As I had been birdwatching on my own I went back to the car to show my find to Amarkhuu. Then we went back to Tsetserleg for a beer.

Never give up!

Note: Solitary Snipe has once been featured at Birding Mongolia before, with photos from the Khangai Mts and Khovd, and some more general information on the species in Mongolia: click here.

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