Latham’s snipe team’s second visit to Japan

By Richard Chamberlain and Jodie Honan

Jodie and Richard have just returned from a second trip to Japan to participate in a survey of Latham’s Snipe around the Yufutsu plain in Tomakomai. This is the same location that the team joined Japanese researchers from the Wild Bird Society of Japan (WBSJ) last year as part of their catching program and fitting of satellite transmitters at Lake Benten in July. From the visit it is apparent that the area not only constitutes an important staging area for the species but is also a breeding site for a number of individuals. Unfortunately, results from the survey show that the number of individuals present in the area has declined by about 28% when compared to the same survey in 2001.

Japanese and Australian researchers together with some of the 30 volunteers from the Latham’s Snipe survey. (Photo: WBSJ)

Leading Latham’s Snipe researcher Tatsuya Ura from WBSJ believes that one of the causes of the decline is the conversion of native grasslands to agricultural land but he and his team are taking steps to protect the area. Industrial development and the development of solar power stations are no doubt also be having an effect. The survey itself represents one of the few repeated field based counts for the species and Ura-san and the WBSJ are planning a Hokkaido wide survey next year in an attempt to provide the first field based population estimate since the one completed by Hans Naarding in the 1980s. Watch this space…

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Latham’s Snipe on top of pole. (Photo: Jodie Honan)

We saw lots of displaying Latham’s Snipe while in Japan and the advertising calls and display flights of the birds in Japan are something to behold. In stark contrast to their retiring nature in Australia, birds in Japan want to be seen, which makes counting them much easier. They sit on top of poles calling before taking flight, circling and calling then plunging in steep dives, tail feathers spread and vibrating their wings in front of the tail feathers to disturb the air and create a “drumming” sound. It is thought that only males perform these display flights but it has never been confirmed. We were able to get photographs of birds in dives where we could count the tail feathers, which gives an indication of sex (Ura et al., 2004). All displaying birds had 16-18 tail feathers, indicating that they were most likely males. Females have 14-16 so there is an overlap but no birds in display flight had 14. It’s early days but we hope to continue this research next year in collaboration with Ura-san and the WBSJ.

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Latham’s Snipe pulling out of a dive, tail feathers still spread and calling. (Photo: Richard Chamberlain)


 The other exciting part of taking photographs of displaying birds was that we were lucky enough to get some of the first leg flag re-sightings since Ura-san’s team started attaching leg flags at Lake Benten. In fact, Richard got a special sticker for the first re-sighting which he is very proud of. Latham’s Snipe banded in Japan wear a single or double blue leg flag on the lower (generally right) leg. It is not surprising that there are a number of birds around Lake Benten with leg flags, as this is the catching site but it does show that some individuals use the site for both breeding and staging.

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Leg flag re-sighting of bird at Lake Benten, Yufutsu Plain, Tomakomai. (Photo: Richard Chamberlain)


It was great to see Tatsuya Ura, Hironobu Tajiri, Seiji Hayama and Satoshi Nakamura and the team from Utonai-ko Visitor’s Centre again. Yamagami-san and the hardest working cameraman from Hokkaido Television Broadcasting were out with us again so keep an eye out for another news item. We are also hoping that Ura-san and some of the team from WBSJ will visit Port Fairy in October this year to assist with the Australian catching program and learn more about the overwintering sites for the species.


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