Wilson's Snipe

     I first heard about snipes as a child listening to the tall tales about snipe hunts told by my grandfather and uncles at family gatherings. I don't think the descriptions of their hunts were quite as elaborate as one I found on the web. Ray Stone's description of his first snipe hunt (found here) follows.   

      "My first hunt was the legendary prank hunt that everyone associates with the word snipe. I was at camp. All of the first year campers, armed with sticks, flashlights, and gunnysacks, were sent to hide in the woods. The older boys explained the hunt to us. They were the beaters. We were the hunters. They would start down by the lake and drive the snipe toward us.
     In hushed tones, they apologized to us for the rumors of bears, snakes, and escaped convicts in the woods. It was, they admitted, only a prank meant to scare the more gullible boys. They reassured us that most of the convicts had already been captured. Besides, they knew that we were too smart and brave to be afraid of such nonsense. Soon we would be veteran snipe hunters like they were.
     We were told to conceal ourselves and wait until we heard the loud crashing of a ‘bull snipe’ in the underbrush. Next, we were supposed to lure one to us by calling “snipe, snipe, snipe.” When a bird got close enough we should blind it with the powerful beam of our flashlight, subdue it with our stick, and then stuff it into the gunnysack. There was a prize for the first boy who bagged one, so we were persistent. A couple of the most persistent boys fell asleep in the woods and were returned to camp, hours later, stuffed into their own gunnysacks.
     I have fond memories of that camp, and it’s been at least forty years since I had nightmares about waking up in a burlap sack."

     I am not sure when I learned that Snipes were real birds but I don't remember actually seeing one until bird photography became a retirement hobby. Wilson's Snipe is found in wet fields, bogs, and marshes throughout North America, but seldom seen in the open. Moreover, in these habitats, they are difficult to see. Their plumage has been described as an impeccable camouflage. I see them most often in the marshes of Bolivar Peninsula in southeast Texas where the first two photos were taken.

Click on the photos for a larger view.

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson's Snipe - Bolivar Peninsula (TX) - Nov. 2014
Nikon D4, 500mm f/4 + 1.4x teleconverter
Supported by beanbag on car window
1/800 sec at f/9, ISO 2500

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson's Snipe - Bolivar Peninsula (TX) -April 2017
Nikon D500, 500mm f/4 + 1.4x teleconverter
Supported by beanbag on car window
1/3200 sec at f/6.3, ISO 3600

     My favorite photo of Wilson's Snipe was taken from the boardwalk at the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center in Port Aransas (TX).  I especially like this pose which displays the beautiful mottled pattern of the feathers and the fanning out of the orange tail feathers. One can almost count the pairs of tail feathers which is a key distinguishing feature of the Wilson's Snipe.  Until 2003, it was considered a sub-species of the Common Snipe but was recognized as a separate species because it has eight, rather than seven, pairs of tail feathers and a narrow white trailing edge on the wings.

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson's Snipe - Port Aransas (TX) - Jan. 2015
Nikon D4, 500mm f/4 + 1.4x teleconverter
1/1000 sec at f/11, ISO 1000

David Sparks

I retired in 2005 after 40 years of research and teaching at the University of Alabama in Birmingham (24 years), the University of Pennsylvania (8 years) and the Baylor College of Medicine (8 years). Photography is my retirement hobby.

Nature photography, especially bird photography, combines a number of things that I really enjoy: bird-watching, being outdoors, photography, travel, messing about with computers, and learning new skills and concepts.  I now spend much of my time engaged in these activities.

David Sibley in the preface to The Sibley Guide to Birds wrote "Birds are beautiful, in spectacular as well as subtle ways; their colors, shapes, actions, and sounds are among the most aesthetically pleasing in nature."  My goal is to acquire images that capture the beauty and uniqueness of selected species as well as images that highlight the engaging behaviors the birds exhibit.