2020-2021: a season of mixed blessings for snipe

It is been a while since I posted here, but no, the project hasn’t died! Work life has got in the way and data entry at my end has been severely delayed. But I can finally report on the outcomes of this survey season, which was a great one.

The season totals were September 1342 snipe from 148 sites, November 1619 snipe from 132 sites, and January 1455 snipe from 149 sites.

Results from the Latham’s Snipe national sureys since the 2015-2016 season.

The regions that consistently had large numbers of snipe were East Gippsland, Geelong-Bellarine, north-west Tasmania, Port Fairy-Warrnambool, and west Gippsland. And the three sites that had consistently high totals were Peterborough (max count 187 in November), Smithton (max count in 134 in November) and Fox Lake (max count 74 in January).

This season was a bumper season for snipe. There was so much water about and the numbers generally reflected this, although at some sites the wet conditions produced the paradoxical result of no snipe, because vegetation got too tall or too think, making the habitat unsuitable.

We were very fortunate that most people were able to get out and survey despite covid restrictions, and I am immensely grateful to all the counters for their efforts.

Unfortunately, several of our sites are facing threats from development. The most significant of these is Peterborough wetlands, which is threatened by housing development thanks to Melbourne investors and the sea changers buying up land. As the popularity (and housing price) of the township goes up, the council is making land use changes in the township to accommodate the growing population, which are also impacting snipe habitats. It is looking very grim there at the moment and we are most concerned that Australia’s largest snipe population could be severely impacted by development.

There are also other sites under threat. The Allansford wetlands are threatened by development, and there are 3 sites potentially under threat due to road duplication projects.

I am in the process of preparing a scientific publication about the results of the national surveys. One of the early findings is the lack of protection for snipe wetlands – less than 10% of snipe recorded were at sites with any form of official protection. This confirms what we are observing from these development threats in different parts of the country, and demonstrates that Latham’s Snipe are afforded no protection in this country. This is a matter for urgent legal and planning attention.

Snipe at Bul Bul Crescent wetland. Photo courtesy of Jim Stone
Searching for snipe at Macalistair wetland. Photo courtesy of Jack Winterbottom

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