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. 🙂

Werribee Wag-Tales: The Baker’s Dozen + Two

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EE and I were on our way down the Bellarine Peninsula for a spot of R&R, not sure what R&R meant in this decision, but rest and relaxation were never going to be high on the list.

On the way down we decided to visit a couple of places along the way and Fyansford Common was a good place for an early start.
Imagine if you will, our surprise when we spotted Mr An Onymous in the carpark.  How co-incidental.  And not long after, we were joined by others of the now, non-affiliated Former Werribee Wagtails.  Isn’t life just full of those serendipitous moments.

So, as a Non-group, we set off our our individual paths around the Common.
A Pied Currawong, a tree full  of Brown Thornbills, and some Red-browed Finches were a good start to the day.

EE and I then set off for Balyang Sanctuary on the Barwon River.  Ideal spot of a cup of the Earl’s finest. Again we were fortunate to find our birding friends had also decided on morning tea here, and Kathy’s sultana cakes provide by husband, Mark, were are welcome treat.
Balyang area proved to be quiet, (nearly wrote quite quiet, but on re-reading_), a few Australasian Darters, and various cormorants with young.  A  rather handsome Sulphur-crested Cockatoo was happy to pose for photographers and watched our meanderings with interest.

Then we drove on to Drysdale Railway Station for lunch, stopping, as usual at the Cinnabar Bakery and Pie Shop in Drysdale and a choice of fine pie delights.  Some might wonder if we go birding and stop for pies, or go for Pies and do the odd bit of birding while we’re out.   You, alone dear reader have all the evidence needed for a conviction.
So our non-group settled in around the steps and seats at the railway station, and enjoyed the some great food, I had the Plain Meatpie (traditionalist that I am), while others had a range of Chicken and Leek, Beef and Mushroom, and Curry.  Great pastry makes a great pie.

The main reason for EE and I to go to Lake Lorne, next to the station, is that it has a good reputation for Freckled Duck, Blue-billed Duck, and Latham’s Snipe.

We began to circumnavigate the lake,  and I dropped off the track into an area near the water’s edge, then with a sharp, “SCHHRAARKH”, the first Latham’s Snipe for the day, exploded out of the grassy edge of the lake, rocketed down about 300 metres and dropped into the edge of the grass.  It was easy to spot as it worked its way, feeding along the edge.
I moved 50m along the edge, and One, then Two, then Three more flushed.  Now it was getting serious.

An area that I’d had some success previously was bare of snipe, so Mr An and I moved further along the edge of the lake until we came to a jumble of branches that required careful negotiation.  Almost across the last one, and Wham!!! Four Snipe were in the air in front of us.  And we were off-balance, so only managed a couple of grab shots.  By the time I was stable of foot, they were across the lake.

We flushed another three and the total for the circuit was a creditable 15, not counting the ones we might have counted twice.
So Baker’s Dozen folk walking the lake, and two extra snipe—actually I’m reliably informed that there was only 12 of us out and about, but as I don’t count birds, I’m hardly likely to number people. 🙂
Especially those who just ‘happen’ to turn up to go pieing/birding with us.

A few fond farewells, and EE and I were off on the next part of the trip.  Gannets and Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos, being our targets.

Wonderful day out with some great people, good birds, fine discussions and great food.  Werribee Wagtails Lives On



Click on photo for a larger size of each shot

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.