Latham’s Snipe Wing Action

Because it was such a fine sunny morning we thought we’d meander over to Heathdale Glen Orden and have a ‘trail run’ for a bird survey we are going to do in a week.

Some kind folk turned up, David Nice and Andrew T from the Altona area and it was good to see friendly faces.
I’d concocted a plan that would hopefully give the photographers a good view should the birds break out that way, and also to give a maximum of coverage of the ponds without zig-zagging about.

We managed a good tally of birds and it augers well for the real count next week

When I looked at the shots, I found I’d managed to get a short burst of a bird moderately close and it shows the amazing wing action, so thought I’d share it for interest.

If I can get WordPress to do a Slideshow, I’ll put that at the end so you can get an idea of the changes in action

Click on Arrows to move through images.

The Main Event

There is a little wetlands not far from home.  It is also very close to a major shopping plaza, and surrounded by both houses and walking tracks.
It has large flat areas that are regularly inundated with water, the overflow of drains during heavy rains.

At present it is drying out, and has wonderful rich muddy areas.
Each year a group of Latham’s Snipe, migrate down from Japan and I suspect because of the predictability of the mudflats and the safety and security of the fenced-off areas, they settle in for our summer before the long-haul back to Japan to breed.  Latham’s used to be called Japanese Snipe at one time.

There might be as many as 40+ in residence at the moment.   Hard to count as the area is criss-crossed with trees and lignum stands.  So it is easy for them to slip away should danger, or a photographer approach.

Challenging photography, and a lot of wasted frames getting focus.  My weapon of choice is the 300mm PF f/4 lens. I set it to continuous focus, and vibration reduction turned off.  I also have my focus set for the Shutter release, (Not Back-button) and on the D500 I set it single frame rather than multi-burst.  That way it will reengage the focus for each press of the shutter (The old ‘focus-bumping’ technique so beloved of early Canon cameras}.
Then it’s just a case of waiting till they break cover.   The old dude is getting slower at picking them up early I confess, so perhaps I might turn to other photo  pursuits where the subjex are much more sedate. 🙂

Saturday Evening Post #151 :The Heathdale Glen Orden Wetlands

I’ve had a few enquires regarding the Latham’s Snipe photos, I’ve been sharing of late on Flickr and elsewhere.

And as I thought, you dear reader, needed a bit of  break from some of the stream of consciousness posts of the past few weeks, I’m going to break with Tradition for the Saturday Evening Post and put up several shots for an insight into the summer-over home for these wonderful creatures that fly all the way from Japan to take up residence in a small wetlands surrounded by suburbia and not 500 metres from a major shopping complex: The Werribee Plaza.

Heathdale Glen Orden is about 35 hectares of parkland and water retaining basin, situated in a saucerlike depression in the middle of a number of housing complexes.

There is a main feeder drain that brings water from several kilometres away from the run off of roadways and parklands, and is fed into the water-retaining area from a smaller feeder drain.  The drain is full of reeds and cumbungi and the like and the runs for several hundred metres before the water enters the lake area proper.  During that time the clever plants filter out the majority of large rubbish and begin the process of clearing the water of sediment and other detritus
The water that flows into the lake area is already quite well filtered and the large open areas of water further act to remove impurities.

The water area is quite shallow, and on a good rain it quickly fills and flows out well beyond the fenced off areas. However that very fact makes it ideal for the visiting Snipe as it produces small areas of damp mud, small dry areas for roosting and pools of water that keep a steady food supply available.

The past couple of days, we’ve had some decent rain, around 35-40mm. Perhaps even more in some areas.  This has enabled the feeder drain to pickup quite a volume of water and when I visited this morning water was extending well out over the surrounding area and footpaths around the  wetlands.  Perfect for Snipe.

The area is a favourite patch of a couple of  birding “off-siders” as my Dad was wont to say.  David Nice, from Flickr is part of the Friends of Heathdale Glen Orden and posts there , and also on Flickr. Always a good supply of info of what the area has to offer.
Dave Torr, he,  the emeritus President of the (former) Werribee Wagtails, is a local and walks the area most days. Not much misses his attention.

So here are a few shots from this morning.  I used the Nikon Z50 with its 16-50mm kit lens.  I’ve had the lens for over a year, but have rarely used it. What surprised me was the small size, it’s almost a pancake lens when folded up, and despite its lightweight feel and design is quite capable of producing very sharp, very useable results. It may not be a birding lens of any repute, but as a walkabout lightweight kit it will get a few more outings  I think.


Oh, I didn’t see any Snipe today, but I was running out of time on my “exercises hour”.

Across the shallow, water retaining basin.

The feeder drain that brings water from housing developments a few kilometres north. After the recent rains it has been given a new life

Toward the Eastern End. This location is usually much drier and a small feeder drain comes in at the end of the fence line.

A well formed walkway winds its way across the wetlands. But it is well overgrown and with only a few area of open water makes bird watching challenging.

Hey, Who Let the Water Out!
That’s a duck halfway down the footpath. Always the opportunist.

The western end of the lake area, normally not underwater, and a good location for spotting Snipe

Saturday Evening Post #013 Nankeen Night Heron

Been an interesting week of weather.  Yesterday in the mid 40s C, today just barely made it to 20C  Mind I’m pretty happy with the cooler weather. Then by mid-afternoon, lovely clear blue sky and a coolish breeze. Go figure.

Many of the regulars here are also members on Flickr.  Flickr seems destined to shoot itself in the foot and alienate the very people who have loyally stuck with it over the years. Who can forget the dreadful, Black Page Format, that nearly gave the viewer migraine, but we persevered.
Now it seems the new owners have no notion of the importance that many users—well, at least the ones I follow— place on the smaller sub-communities of likeminded folk who regularly post, comment and enjoy the work of their community groups.  Just like having friends on fb, but actually friends. And being able to meet them in person and travel to places with them makes it all the more interesting.

But the new 1,000 picture limit is going to strain the friendships I feel. Mind the  cost of a Pro account (and unlimited pictures) is only a few cents a day, and not much more than a pub meal night out for two, so it’s not a serious financial burden.
My disappointment with it, is I get nothing new for my extra investment. I don’t want to upload every photo I ever took.  I’m in the process of backing up my entire library as far back as 2004, (the earlier ones are on CD and DVD,  how’s that for old technology.  Some of those were transferred from SCART Tape Drives. (you young’uns will need to ask prof google about that).

I’m using GoodSync. And its all going to a NAS system from Western Digital.  And Goodsync has reliably informed me, that 5,203 hours are needed to move the images over the Gigabit network I’m using. But to be honest, I think the speed is an inherent problem of WD’s cheep NAS hardware/software.
Oh yeah, the point!

Well if I was to upload all those to a Pro Account and then try to search for them and do all the stuff I normally do in a week with my current pics, it might be as much as 3 days between images. Given that my NBN is not exactly scorching the cables to move data about.

So I’m —as they say— a bit ambivalent about Flickr Pro account.  Don’t panic, I’m not abandoning Flickr, just pondering if I can live with the 1,000 image limit. I still want to keep in touch with folk.


We have been working with Latham’s Snipe at the Heathdale Glen Orden wetlands.
The other morning we glimpsed a Nankeen Night Heron, and, well, EE managed a couple of good shots of it inflight.   ‘Nuff said. She’s good like that

We were back yesterday morning, before the heat, and I saw the bird go into a tree.  I had to wade about in the water to get an open shot, but reckon the result was worth the sloshing about in the mud.


Snapshots: Latham’s Snipe—On the Fly

Didn’t need a degree, (pun intended) in weather forecasting to know that Friday 4 January 2019 was going to be a “Scorcher”. 44 Celesius and that, as my Dad used to say was “in the shade”.  Standing in an open paddock photographing birds, would result in not much more than a badly burned chicken nugget going home.


We had been pondering going to look for Latham’s Snipe at the local Heathdale Glen Orden Wetlands, and because these tricky little dudes mostly feed at night, and roost by day, and they are incredibly alert and super fast in the air, and the most important and possibly only element that we can control is the light.
A bright sunny day gives, plenty of light for fast shutter speeds, and also the best possible AF performance.   So we formulated what can only be considered a ‘cunning plan’.  We would load up the gumbbies and the cameras and get down there very early in the morning.  That way if it was a clear day then we could spend a couple of hours with good light and be on the way out for an early morning coffee-breakfast, just around the corner before the heat became opressive, and overwhelming and ugly.

Alarm goes Off!!!!

Look out window, still dark, but there are no clouds in sky.

EE grabs quick breakfast, and a cuppa to go, and we’re away.

It’s only a few minutes drive and by the time we arrived the sun was well above the roof and tree line around.  Looked good. Except we parked at the wrong end of the ponds for the light, no point in trying to catch them against the light. My Mum’s favourite, “Keep the sun over your left shoulder, dear”, was what was needed. So gumbbies on, we clump clump clumped down the footpath to the other side of the ponds.  And met, out for an early morning walk with his dog, the president of BirdLife Werribee, (Formerly Werribee Wagtails). Morning, Mr Torr, we acknowleged as we walked by.

On to the end of the pond, and a gate leading into a boardwalk, and as I opened the gate for yet another dude with a dog, there behind him was my Flickr mate, David Nice. Morning, David. The wetlands is David’s “Patch” and he was happy to help explain some of the likely spots.  Thanks, you’re a champion.

So we began. Snipe help by letting out a sharp “Yelp” as they take to the air. And that’s it. No second prizes awarded.
The big deal is getting the AF to lock on to the bird at warp speed.
I chose to use the D500, and the 300 PF f/4. No TC attached.  This gives about the best and fastest short of dragging out the big gun pro lenses, like the 300mm f/2.8  Also inspite of my usual, I set multi-burst, and AF to Continuous and selected the Group Focus.  This hopefully picks up the closest subject and well, perhaps Snipe aren’t in its database.  The other big changes, are M for manual and  set the hightest shutter speed I can manage and balance out the ISO around 800. Also I turn “Off” the VR (IS) as I know there is a bit of a lag on focus if the VR is guessing what to do.  Set lens to the limited 3m to ∞. Don’t want it looking for birds that aren’t there a few metres in front of me .

Primed up, with good light, and an open area or two to work in, and we are sniping.

No one said it was easy.


This is how close they are to the nextdoor neighbours


Landing rights with a Minah

Off course it would be a treat to actually find them on the ground and feeding, but I’m working on that.


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.