Posted by: atowhee | February 12, 2017


Feb. 12—Today we got one of those gentle respites from serious winter.  Clear, mild, sunny, windless. Fine day for us pagan birders. At the Yamhill city sewer ponds this morning the most abundant bird was not starling, nor Canada Goose, nor Shoveler (zero!) nor scaup…it was…Wilson’s Snipe.  The seasonal marsh and the nearby soggy fields were snipe-rich.  As dog and I walked around the marsh a couple dozen snipe took wing and most moved across the fence into the fields.  A group of seven circled and climbed and circled some more and then headed off east of Hwy 47 to some other marshy spot.  Most just lifted over the fence and landed far out into the fields.  Some already in the field moved away from the near fence and then set down.  I tried to follow some of the flying birds until they landed.  As they did each one vanished into the grass which was a few inches high.

In flight the snipe zig-zag and twist about invisible objects, a difficult flight to follow if you are a Peregrine moving at 70 MPH.  I have seen Peregrine dive after snipe, never seen one connect.  As snipe fly they gave out their alarm call, a nasally whistle.  National Geo says this call’s a two-syllable “sni-ape.” Brinkley’s field guide for the Wildlife Federation says the call’s an “unmusical tzehp.” That’s pronounced with a strong eastern European accent, no doubt. Here’s an image of several snipe up in the air:snip-aloftI am pointing my camera due west toward the Coastal Range.  Note in second image a snipe s suddenly visible at the horizon line.  Then in the final image more snipe enter from upper left hand corner. In that shot the clustered seven, heading to the right, is the group that circled 36o degrees, twice, then headed off east, directly opposite of where the camera was pointed.  All these other birds landed in the grassy field below where they are flying…but not in the newly planted hazelnut orchard,snip-aloft2snip-aloft3snip-aloft4This is the snipe marsh in Yamhill.  It gets mowed when dry in the late summer so there is not a lot of dense growth above eight inches tall, no cattails or willows.  Accidentally it is maintained as near-perfect snipe habitat, especially in this wet winter.snip-marsh

I got no close-up photos today but in spring the males call, winnow, display and perch in the open.  Here is one such bird.ma12-d_1533a-netThis is a snipe photographed on a Golden Gate Audubon Malheur trip in 2012 by Bob Mandell. Those eyes are placed near the top of the skull so when the beak is in the ground the bird can still see above and behind it, on the look out for Peregrine or Harrier.

It is still legal to hunt snipe in Oregon.  They are the only shorebird so honored.  Puts snipe into that special class with waterfowl, grouse, quail and crows.  A number of introduced game birds are also hunted like chukar, pheasant and turkey. So for this species “snipe hunt” is no joke and neither is some guy walking past their marsh with a big dog…

Yamhill Sewage Ponds (restricted access), Yamhill, Oregon, US
Feb 12, 2017 10:50 AM – 11:50 AM.  12 species

Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)  3     in the creek
Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)  13
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)  1
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)  6
Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago delicata)  35
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  7
California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)  4
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  X
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  X
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  X
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)  3
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)  25     males were singing from high perches


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