Satellite tracking update and national surveys results January 2022

The new year has got off to a great start with five Latham’s Snipe satellitte tagged and transmitting from various parts of Australia. Three of these snipe are the Wild Bird Society of Japan tagged birds, and data is still being received intermittently from them. One has spent almost its entire time on farmland in the Niangala region of NSW, inland of Port Macquarie and south-east of Tamworth. Another roamed around a bit and visited some far-flung locations like Venus Bay in Victoria before settling down in parkland in western Sydney. And the third has spent a lot of its time in the ACT / NSW alps.

In early December 2021, the ACT team managed to find the Covid-19 gap to get a catch done at Jerrabomberra wetlands. It was destined to go pretty well as there had been record numbers of snipe recorded earlier in spring within the wetlands complex, and then 1 week out from the catching a large number of snipe were sighted at the Billabong in the south end, near the car yards. So only a single night’s catching was required and the team caught their largest catch ever at Jerrabomberra of 11 snipe. Everyone was very excited, especially as we had three PinPoint Argos tags left to deploy. Two were from previous years and there was a single new one. Consistent with patterns we have seen in the past, there were quite a few fatter birds in the catch compared to the Jan/Feb catches from previous years. The three largest adult birds (>150g) were selected for tags and fitted with leg loop harnesses. This is the first time we have used the leg loops on latham’s snipe and after some fiddling around, got them fitted nicely. The birds were held briefly just to allow them to shuffle their harnesses into position and then released near Kelly’s swamp.

ELF50 ready to go
ELF51 also ready to go
Kellys swamp, full of water. The conditions for catching were perfect.

Regular transmissions have been received from two of the birds, carrying orange engraved leg flags 50 and 51, but no data was ever received from the third bird (which could be a failed tag). The tags were programmed to take day and night fixes for about a month and this has proved to be a good decision as we have obtained loads of data showing the areas the birds are roosting and foraging in. As with previous years, they are almost always using completely distinct areas at night and day (see image below).

Between the WBSJ tracking and our tracking, we are starting to build a good picture of snipe movement in Australia. There are still many gaps of course, and a lack of complete migration tracks makes it harder to work out where important migration sites are outside Australia. The figure below provides a snapshot of the recent tracking data from the five tagged snipe.

Most recent locations of the five satellite tagged snipe. The purple dots represent the Wild Bird Society of Japan birds and the green symbols are the ACT birds. Satellite data courtesy of the WBSJ.

National surveys 2021

As most people know, it has been an unusually wet year with the Bureau of Meteorology declaring La Niña conditions in spring. As a consequence, we have seen numbers of snipe exceeding any in past years. So despite Covid-19 preventing some people from doing surveys, we had the highest counts ever in November 2021. Paradoxically, quite a few of the usual “good sites” had too much water and not many snipe were recorded – this was particularly the case for East Gippsland and sites in Queensland.

Highlights for the surveys were:

  • Total September count was 1124 from 121 sites. This included 9 new sites.
  • The regions with the largest totals in September were Central Tasmania (85 snipe), East Gippsland (98 snipe), Geelong-Bellarine (71 snipe), Hunter region (91 snipe), northern-west Tasmania (91 snipe all Smithton), Otway shipwreck coast (121 snipe all at Peterborough), Port Fairy-Warrnambool (90 snipe), SE South Australia (110 snipe) and West Gippsland (74 snipe).
  • Total November count was 1946 for 119 sites. This was a seasonal record! This included only 4 new sites.
  • The regions with the largest totals in November were Victorian western Central Highlands (220 snipe), northern NSW (125 snipe), NSW Hunter region (259 snipe), Port Fairy – Warrnambool (179 snipe), SE South Australia (247 snipe), West Gippsland (155 snipe) and of course Smithton and Peterborough
Summary of seasonal surveys since 2015.

It is always great to see the count results and the findings of peoples’ surveys. But there are also often other little treasurers that come with receiving everyone’s data and entering the data. The photos of people counting are always wonderful, as are the photos of snipe in flight or going about their business.

Here’s some gems from past surveys:

What is also wonderful is people’s care of their sites. For example, one of the counters made the following comment in relation to rubbish dumping at their survey site last year:

We actually reported the dumping, rubbish etc to the council and they fed back to me it had subsequently been inspected and is on a list for clean up. I am now concerned they’ll clean it up and disturb the snipe. Oh dear, conservation work is complicated I realise!

The law of unintended consequences! It seems to happen too often when trying to do conservation. So for those of you fighting your local conservation fights, you are not alone when you feel like you’re not getting anywhere.

With the new(ish) datasheets, there have been some fabulous site maps produced by counters and included with the snipe count data. Two examples are below, which the counters have given permission to share with you.

If you are not keen on GPS and smart devices, here is another great way to record your surveys!

Other snipe news

Not all news this year is good. One of our counters in the Geelong region, Rustem Upton, passed away earlier in January. This was pretty sudden and shocking for most of us that didn’t know him that well. He was extremely dedicated to the snipe surveys and was a meticulous observer. I would like to express my gratitude for the contribution he made to the snipe project. We will strive to carry on his legacy at his favourite snipe site, Begola wetlands.

The other news is fortunately much less sad. The snipe project will be cranking up another notch in Canberra in 2022 with the commencement of a PhD project investigating snipe movement ecology. I am pleased to announce that our colleague Lori Gould will be taking up this PhD. This is great news for the snipe project as Lori has been instrumental in initiating and driving it in Canberra and has lots of experience with the species. She will be based at ANU and working with Professor Adrian Manning, Heather Mcginness and myself to undertake this project. The project will be supported by an ANU Research Training Program scholarship and the Woodlands and Wetlands Trust.

It couldn’t happen without the volunteers and collaborators…

My thanks to all the counters that have managed to get to their sites to survey in 2021. And a special thanks to the Jerrabomberra wetlands catching team who have been so dedicated to the cause and made the effort each year to slog through wetlands at 4am. We now have a very experienced team of snipe catchers and they have made this part of the project possible. And finally I’d like to thank Tatsuya Ura and the Wild Bird Society of Japan, who have kept us up-to-date with their tracking project.

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