It’s that time of year when you can not be sure what will drop out of the sky. I mean this quite literally, because it’s migration season and birds of many feathers are streaming northward, in our case along the Atlantic flyway.

Yesterday, for instance, we spotted a Wilson’s Snipe in Green-Wood Cemetery on a lunchtime walk in the mizzle. A nice surprise. Gallinago delicata, not so long separated from what we now call Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago), a Eurasian species, which I saw and heard most memorably in Iceland, fittingly since “snipe” derives from a Norse word.

This bird was flushed by a walker coming towards us, then returned to the brownish roadside shoulder it clearly felt was good eats. It was flushed again by one of the utility vehicles the cemetery staff use; the golf-cart style thing was right alongside the bird before the bird bolted.

Snipe are like American Woodcock, shorebirds who don’t favor the shore. They like wet fields and marshy edges. They’re shaped a bit like Woodcock too, plumpish and squat with very long bills, but their plumage is quite distinct. I can count on one hand the times I’ve seen them in NYC: including once in Prospect and a few at Four Sparrow Marsh. New York is the southeastern edge of the birds’ breeding ground; they were breeders on Staten Island for the 2nd Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State.

It would, of course, be a day I did not have my camera with me. But then, that’s snipe-hunting. Indeed, so hard are they to, uh, shoot that the word sniper is derived from the hunters of them. Now days, of course, snipers hunt larger targets, and hunters, via the broadcast-scattering of poisonous lead-shot upon the wold and bog, bring down hundreds of thousands of them, the lead continuing to destroy life long after the mighty bagger has his brace in a bag.

2 Responses to “Snipers”

  1. 1 Nature on the Edge April 8, 2016 at 9:00 am

    Another interesting post, Matthew. Enjoyed a detour to your Iceland link; having visited Iceland I was curious to hear if i could identify the sound of the ‘winnowing’ snipe which led me to a sound clip on google. It is so spine-tinglingly haunting. Your descriptive passages fit so beautiful too. The call of the African fish eagle has that effect on me…. gets to the soul.

    • 2 mthew April 8, 2016 at 10:20 am

      Thank you! I so want to go back to Iceland (and yet there are so many other places, too…). I wasn’t at all familiar with the African fish eagle. Looks spectacular!

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