Wood snipe and Latham’s Snipe update

As of April 25, one of the Wild Bird Society of Japan snipe was in north-east Hokkaido, in the Engaru-cho area. It is possible it will settle somewhere in this region to breed. Even more exciting is that the other snipe, which was in the far south of Honshu in early April, is now somewhere along the south-west coast of Sakhalin Island!

There have been no further transmissions from the two Canberra snipe.

There have been recent updates from the Wood Snipe tracking project also. The team now has complete southward migration tracks for two individuals (see the tracking map below). The latest point for one bird, carrying a Lotek tag, was 26/02/2022 and the other bird, carrying a HQXS tag, was 13/04/2022. The team is expecting the two birds, which were presumed to be on their wintering grounds during mid-April, to start their journey back to breeding grounds very soon.

Tracking map for two tagged Wood Snipe. Courtesy of Mint Ren.

Snipe on northward migration

It has been a busy and exciting time for Latham’s Snipe tracking. Since the January update there have been some interesting movements in both the Jerrabomberra wetlands snipe and the Wild Bird Society of Japan snipe.

In Canberra, ELF50 hung around at Jerrabomberra wetlands only until mid-January and then headed out to western Canberra to spend about 3 weeks on an equestrian property, before then moving SE 65km to farmland around Ballalaba. It stayed there for about 2 and a half months. ELF51 stayed at Jerrabomberra until mid-March and then headed straight up to Gwydir wetlands. This is the third snipe we have tagged that has used Gwydir! It didn’t stay there long and moved on a few days later to southern Queensland. We haven’t had a data transmission since late March. Since then, ELF50 has left NSW (March 25) and turned up in Cape York 3 days later. It’s most recent April fixes are from the central west side of the Cape.

Meanwhile the Japanese tagged snipe have done all sorts of interesting things. One was in western Sydney for spring and left the area in mid-December to move westwards to the Lachlan River region near Forbes, where spent about a month and half. It’s most recent fixes were from south-east Queensland, including a fix south of Great Sandy Strait.

The second snipe stayed in the same ~20 sqkm area of farmland SE of Tamworth for 5 months. It left in mid-February stopping off in the Cairns area for a short period, and then straight on to Japan, arriving in southern Japan at the end of March. This is the first ever complete & documented migration of a satellite-tagged Latham’s Snipe. Hooray! And congratulations to the WBSJ for this success.

The third snipe spent four months of the spring-summer period in the ACT alps and then went missing in action for a while, before turning up on northward migration in early April. The exciting news is that it is also back in Japan, on Honshu in the Kanto region.

The map below shows recent fixes from all five tagged snipe.

Recent fixes from 5 tagged Latham’s Snipe. Green symbols are Canberra-tagged snipe and blue symbols are Hokkaido-tagged snipe. Hokkaido snipe data courtesy of the Wild Bird Society of Japan.

One of the noticeable patterns this season has been some unexpected movements westward, most likely caused by the massive rains and floods in eastern Australia over the last 2 months. The other thing we have noticed is apparently late departures of snipe from the south, with birds still being present at sites for longer or in larger numbers. Hopefully we might get some deeper insights about these migration patterns when it comes to analysing the tracking data alongside observational data in the future.

The national surveys again produced some great results. Birgita is fortunate to have had asssitance from Jack Winterbottom with the data entry and the January count results will soon be compiled. There is no doubt that all the rain over the 2021-2022 season has affected the snipe count results, with some areas having lots of snipe and others having virtually none, because there has been too much water or vegetation has become too tall.

In the coming two months, we will be embarking on a small project to produce guidelines for the management and restoration of snipe habitat. If you have any interest in getting involved, please contact Birgita.

Wood Snipe tracking update

A brief update on other snipe tracking news. The wood snipe team had an unexpected success in February when one of their tagged birds suddenly transmitted again after a long period of no data transmission (due to a flat battery). The data showed the bird in the Guizhou province and the activity data suggested it was wintering there. This represents the first wintering (non-breeding season) record for China, which is a fabulous outcome for the team.

Valuing urban wetlands

We are about to commence a new project called Valuing Urban Wetlands with AURIN, the ALA and BirdLife Australia. It will draw on data generated by the Latham’s Snipe Project alongside other waterbird data contained with Birdata and provisioned to the ALA alongside other citizen scientist data. The aim of the project is to improve access to information about urban wetlands to raise awareness of their importance for biodiversity conservation (and human health and wellbeing). Please get in contact with Birgita if you want to know more.

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.

Other snipe news

We were fortunate to get an article published in The Conversation in late August that provides a story about snipe migration and the challenges we have faced trying to conserve the species. The article is available to read here.

Recently the Friends of Mason Park wetlands in Sydney produced a very informative video about the site, which is not far from the Sydney Olympic Park wetlands – a nationally significant habitat area for snipe and one of the snipe monitoring sites. The interesting back story at Mason Park is the loss of shorebird habitat from mangrove encroachment, a problem occurring also in the Hexham swamp near Newcastle, another important snipe site. The Friends of Mason Park have been doing a lot of habitat modification works, which will hopefully promote the return of habitats more suitable to support snipe and other shorebirds.

There are still challenges for snipe at many other sites in Australia, all in urban areas. In Brisbane, the state government has plans for a major road through the Eagleby wetlands, which turned up a survey result over the EPBC Act threshold of 18 birds for national significance. In south-west Victoria, there is still pressure on the wetlands in Peterborough, our largest snipe site. It is unclear whether a housing development proposal will be made for the Robertson street wetland, recently sold to an unknown buyer. And challenges still exist in Port Fairy in terms of highlighting the ongoing significance of wetlands in the town for snipe, and encouraging council to reconsider the timing and extent of various planned works at Powling Street wetlands and nearby Sandy Cove. Only through the efforts of local counters and interested community members, combined with insights from the monitoring, can we hope to influence decision-makers to take snipe wetland conservation more seriously.

Three Japanese snipe migrated to Australia!

Since late August, the three Latham’s Snipe tagged by the Wild Bird Society of Japan have been busy moving around parts of eastern Australia. They have used a surprising range of locations and habitats, most of which are not locations with previous records. It has been immensely exciting and satisfying to see these tracking results.

Below is a visual summary of where the snipe have been. All images have been kindly supplied by the WBSJ and annotated.

19/9/2021. Snipe 198428 was still in PNG, 198427 was near Port Macquarie after spending about 3 weeks in Cape York, and 198429 went to Sydney via Menindee Lakes, after spending a few days south of Gladstone. Image courtesy of WBSJ.

By Sept 27, 198428 had left PNG and was inland of Hervey Bay, 198427 was south of Armidale in northern NSW, and 198429 had moved to Venus Bay in Victoria.

By 18 Oct, 198428 was in the New South Wales high plains near the ACT border, 198427 was still south of Armidale, and 198429 had left Venus Bay and had moved to western Sydney.

We were very excited when 198429 turned up in Venus Bay (Victoria), especially after it looked like it was going to stay in Sydney (after making a huge detour via Menindee Lakes on its way to Sydney!). Venus Basy is one of our monitoring sites that meets the EPBC Act criteria for national importance. And now it has decided it doesn’t like the Victorian coast and has headed back to Sydney!

Snipe 198427 seems quite content to hang around Armidale / Port Macquarie region and has moved around only a little bit in that time.

We were concerned about 198428 for sometime as it had transmitted intermittently from PNG, but then it finally arrived in Australia and is now in the NSW highlands, close to Kosciuszko NP. This is intriguing news as we get very few records of snipe from the high country and its importance for Latham’s Snipe is still unclear.

The Wild Bird Society of Japan have achieved these outstanding tracking results through their patient persistence and hrd work in northern Japan. The results accumulating are providing really great insights to snipe migration but more importantly their choice of stopover habitat, many that are locations where snipe have rarely been recorded previously.

Thanks to URA Tatsuya at the WBSJ for providing regular location updates.

Exciting snipe research news

We have very exciting news from our colleagues at that Wild Bird Society of Japan. They have tagged a number of latham’s snipe オオジシギ in Hokkaido with satellite transmitters and three of those birds have sucessfully completed their southward migration! Woo hoo!

Two snipe arrived in Australia on 24th August, one south of Weipa on the west side of Cape York and the other south of Gladstone just east of the Bruce Highway near Bororen. As of August 26, both birds were still in the same general area.

The third snipe went to the south-east Papua New Guinea and is north of Port Moresby in forested areas.

Locations of the three snipe as of August 26. Map courtesy of the Wild Bird Society of Japan

You can find the latest updates on the WSBJ snipe tracking project on Facebook (you don’t need an account to view).

These snipe have travelled 7800km over 5 days to reach their southerly destinations. This adds to the amazing migration of T0 obtained from geolocator data back in 2016, which followed almost exactly the same route across the Pacific Ocean.

Wood Snipe tracking

In other exciting snipe news, a team of intrepid researchers at the University of Queensland, Peking University and Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding have been searching for the elusive wood snipe in the Himalayas.

At over 3000m altitude, they have been attempting to catch wood snipe and fit them with satellite tracking devices. This is a species that is very poorly known and there is no information about their seasonal migrations between the Himalayas and the Laos and Burmese lowlands.

Wood snipe breeding habitat. Photo courtery of Ren Xiaotong

They have successfully located nests of wood snipe and also tagged several birds at a breeding site in Pingwu, Sichuan Province.

Fitting a tag to a wood snipe. Photo courtesy of Chen Lifang.

One of their tagged wood snipe has started its southward migration and is en route to the Vietnamese lowlands.

Wood Snipe tracking August 2021. Image courtesy of Ren Xiaotong.
Wood Snipe chicks. Photo courtesy of Ren Xiaotong

The first snipe of the season has arrived!

Yesterday August 8th, the first two snipe were sighted back at Jerrabomberra wetlands. This is over a week earlier than any previous year for which there was a record. Is it this wet season we have had in south-eastern Australia?

In far north Queensland, there were three early August records also, two from the Atherton Tablelands and one from Prosperpine. These are on ebird for folk who are curious to see for themselves.

So now is the time to be on the lookout for snipe in your local wetlands!

And don’t forget the national snipe surveys start up again in September, on Saturday 18th. Please get in contact with Birgita before the end of August if you’re interested in being involved.

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