Saturday Evening Post #010 Gone at the Speed of Light

Latham’s (or Japanese) Snipe.

Not a bird I have to say that I’ve spent much time pursing. Given they are a skulking creature around wetlands and the only real time I’ve ever seen them is when someone flushes from a “Snipe Count Day”.  And from that I learned they go fast.

Fascinating creatures that have the ability to hop from northern Japan to southern Australia in less than a week. There is an apocryphal story I can’t track down tonight of one, fitted with a satellite tracker that may have achieved the journey in three days.  And just before you reach for the pocket calculator or uncle google, that is about 7,000km.

There are a number of sites on the web about the research projects and this one seem among the best.

In a wetlands in the very heart of Werribee township, at the Heathdale Glen Orden wetlands to be precise, a number of Snipe have taken up residence. Perhaps 15-20 by a moderate conservative count.   And down the road a bit at Harpley estate another wetlands holds perhaps as many again.

So suitably armed with appropriate Snipe photographing equipment, I have the past few Friday afternoons ventured out to Heathdale Glen Orden.

The wetlands is in a flood retarding basin with houses and football grounds, swings and slides around its periphery. Once the main water channel becomes full, it overflows across the surrounding low-lying land and of recent weeks has had between 10 -20cm of water among some lovely low grass tussocks, and mud.  Ideal for your visiting Snipe it seems.

They feed in the early morning and late afternoon and then squat for most of the day. But walk past one, and it takes the air with a rasping “Chakzak”, and well, its gone.
Irritatingly for the average in flight photographer they zig zag as they go making it next to impossible to keep them in the viewfinder.

To be honest, they are not a bird I have info on, other than what I can google and chat to a few folk who have done serious bird counts.  More of that to follow I suspect.

So to Friday.

We have have had a couple of day of torrential rain. As much as 60mm or more over the two days.
And Friday morning looked like it was going to continue.  So I put aside ideas of a trip down to Heathdale Glen Orden.  But by lunchtime it had cleared up and blue skies were the order of the day, and with a cheerful heart I grabbed the D500, the 300mm PF and a pair of gumboots.
But, and you knew that was coming.

But, by the time I arrived, and its only a 10min trip, the sky had gone leaden. Still, I concluded, I was here and I may as well go look see.

And as I wrote on Flickr the other night, you’ve got to picture old dude, with camera sloshing about in gumboots in 20cm of water and really sticky mud, looking for an impossible find. When Chakzak, there goes one. Swing camera, locate bird, wait for for D500/300PF to do its thing. Bird gone. Oh.

Take two sloshing steps.  Chahzak, there goes another, Chahzak, oh, now two, and I can’t get the beasts focused no matter what. Except I’ve some nice sharp shots of the lignum they flew past.
Chahzak, and another and another and… well you get the idea.

It’s the zig zag that does it. They have an ability to turn at speed, that has to be seen to be understood.

This is from a previous week with sunshine

And as I worked my way across the waterlogged landscape the light began to turn to porridge and the shutter speed went down, and that wasn’t the only down as a light rain began to hiss out of the darkening clouds.
The next couple that took off gave me a chance as they ran along a fence line with plenty of open space, and the camera/lens combo kicked into life.  And the raindops became larger and more frequent, and I was now about 10 minutes from the car.
One last Chahzak, and a brief view in the finder and it was over.  Slosh back to the car.

Funny really, old dude, water, mud, rain.  No wonder the little 8 year old kid used to love to follow Magpie Larks around. Although then we called them Muddies for obvious reasons. Still among my fav birds. All very Taoist to have returned to the beginning.

By the time I was back at the car reality had set in and the raindrops were now serious.  In the 10 minutes to home it turned into a major downpour, and I’d only put the kettle on for a cuppa when the thunder and lighting began, and the rain gauge began to fill up for the first time in a very long time.

More work to be done on Snipe.  Just needs some good light and patience.



6 thoughts on “Saturday Evening Post #010 Gone at the Speed of Light

  1. You have done well, David. I got the one click of the tail end of a snipe at Harpley and one blurred blob from Heathdale-Glen Orden (that one doesn’t count). I will try again, more in hope than expectation. You were lucky to still have power by the time you got home – ours went down with the second lightning strike and was off for just on nine hours. 41 mm of rain in the first half hour of the downpour, and our corner flooded. All up 82 mm in the gauge over Thursday and Friday!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi David, I must get to phone Gary and go looksee at Harpley as well. We had a few moment of blackout, but it kicked back in again. 9 Hours is appalling service.
      I suspect that the Glen Orden is well overflowing now. Which is good in some respects as the birds seem to favour spots near the edge of the water. Perhaps the long finger of land from the bridge would be good at the moment.
      I really want to get them on the ground, but short of building a hide or squatting for hours in the mud, that will have to remain a dream.
      The longer lenses would help but are useless for in-flight so I’ll have to be satisfied with the 300PF for the moment. Even with a converter to 420mm, the focus slows down far to much to get the first flush burst.


  2. Thanks. Geraldine et al flushed 15 at Melton Bot Gardens early November. Am pleased to have seen them in flight incredibly fast. Amazing story re their flight from Japan

    Liked by 1 person

    1. G,day, Thanks for that I would have gone out with Geraldine, but we had a family gig on at the same time. Will try to get out there for the Jan count.
      My guess is that there are good numbers of them in many of the overflow wetlands, just they are well hidden most of the time, and people don’t slosh though in gumbies to put them up.
      Harpley is my next challenge


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