Jack Snipe (kvartbekkasin) has been a bit of an obsession for me at various times over the last decade. My first goal was to find one before nearly stepping on it and flushing it. This I have succeeded with a handful of times now although seem to have lost my touch in the last few years. I see that thermal cameras are being used to great effect in the UK to find species like Jack Snipe and I am now seriously considering the purchase of one. Although it might feel like cheating it would mean I wouldn’t inadvertently flush birds in my quest to see them and the possibilities must be endless – imagine scanning the high grass on a wind blown island (read Værøy) and seeing where all the Lanceolated Warblers are hiding 😊
My ultimate Jack Snipe goal though is to see one in the open and feeding and at fairly close range. I have a recollection that I must have witnessed this as a teenager in the UK at Weirwood Reservoir and on St.Mary’s, Scilly but that is now so long ago that my memories have faded. This autumn I did get to see and record a Jack Snipe bobbing at Fornebu but it was a great range and I yearned for something much closer. I got to see a Jack Snipe out in the open a few weeks ago at Østensjøvannet (I was kindly messaged about the bird and didn’t find it myself) but this bird had just frozen in response to our presence (they have a nearly limitless faith in the camouflage abilities their plumage gives them such they can almost be trodden on before they fly up) and we soon left the area to allow it to continue feeding or seek cover (they normally feed at night and roost during the day although when it is icy and food is difficult to find then they become far more active in the day).
Since that initial sighting at Østensjøvannet I have been lucky enough to find Jack Snipe there again four times and at three different locations (up to 2km apart) so the possibility of there having been more than one individual must be considered.
When I (re)found the bird the first time it was in a stream and in the open. However, my presence caused it to freeze and I decided to move away and out of its sight. I found a spot where I could see its body but not its head meaning I was out of eyesight for the bird. After about 5 minutes its body started bobbing and I then inched forward to allow me to see the whole bird. I had just set up the camera to record when all hell broke loose. A Water Rail appeared and then ran at the snipe. This caused the snipe to rise vertically before landing on the land a few meters away and it then ran into some reeds. This is where it remained for the next two hours I was on site and it was quite well hidden and amongst the reeds its plumage was indeed a fantastic camouflage. I was however able to find an angle where I could see it relatively well and when it did occasionally become active I got to film it bobbing 😊
|Jack Snipe (kvartbekkasin). When I found the bird it was feeding in a stream and here its plumage was not very good camouflage but this didn't stop the bird just freezing and hoping not to be see|
|amongst the reeds though it is well camouflaged|
|always something in the way|
|a Wren (gjerdesmett) walking by|
My second encounter was quite absurd in that the bird was in a ditch less than 30cm wide and only a couple of metres from the main path around Østensjøvannet. People and dogs walked past without the bird moving a millimetre. One does have to wonder why it didn’t choose to fly to another site – even though open water is at a premium there were a couple of streams with open water nearby.
|the location of the bird showing how tiny the ditch was, how close it was to the path and how it didn't move even when people walked past|
The third encounter was two days after the second and was in exactly the same ditch. There had been a lot of snow overnight which made picking out the bird a bit easier and also meant for some nice photos. Every time I saw the bird he was “frozen” but clearly was moving about a bit when I wasn’t watching. At one stage a Moorhen walking along the ditch spooked him but I was too busy looking at the back of my camera checking my settings to record it. As I left a dog being walked on a lead managed to spook the bird which flew just 10 metres and pitched down in the ditch again. The dog had clearly noticed the bird but its owner kept it on a short leash and walked by without the bird flying up again.
The weather changed from Saturday 20th February with double digit minus temperatures being replaced by plus temperatures (without even an overnight frost) and rain and this resulted in a lot of new areas to become available for this bird which is of course good for it but will likely mean it will not be so easy to find it again. I did manage to refind it once though. I saw a suitable area of muddy ground and approached it. I saw no bird but saw droppings and beak marks in the ground. I had the Beast with me and we eventually stood right by this tiny area of mud (no more than 3 square metres) and I thought I had scanned it thoroughly. As we turned to leave the Jack Snipe flew up less than 50cm from us and where I had just been looking! This proves that:
1. They have amazing camouflage when in mud and grass and they trust it (I did afterall also have the dog with me), and
2. That I have really lost my touch…
That same day I also found a Common Snipe which judging by the amount of droppings in the area had been around a while (the area was one I had not considered searching when it was very cold but judging by the conditions there may well have been open water (and mud) all the time). While the Jack Snipe is the first record in Oslo for the months of Jan-Feb the Common Snipe is surprisingly only the third record.