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

September survey results and the EAAF Shorebird Science Meeting

The start of the 2020-2021 snipe season has gone much better than expected. The total number of snipe counted for the September 26 survey was 1347 for 150 sites – 24 of these sites were new for the National Surveys and accounted for 149 snipe. This result compares favourably to the September 2019 survey, where we had 1229 snipe for 126.

A snipe snapped landing at a new survey site in Craigieburn, Greater Melbourne. Photo: Beverley Van Praagh
Some of highest snipe numbers were recorded in Astonville, northern NSW . Photo: David Charley
Hearts Morass in East Gippsland had high numbers of snipe in the Sept survey. Photo: Jack Winterbottom

We were expecting potentially poor results this time around after the >40% decline in snipe numbers was detected during the Japanese breeding ground surveys in May. This was thought to be a consequence of the bushfires and drought effects. It is still possible these factors have had an impact on the snipe population, but the effect could have been diluted by the nature of our survey sites – as many are in urban areas they may be more stable and less likely to fluctuate with large population changes. But there is no evidence yet to support this theory.

EAAF Shorebird Science Meeting

In other news, the EAAFSSM is currently underway in Korea, although the whole conference has been moved online. Birgita has presented some findings from the Latham’s Snipe Projet satellite tracking, showing the importance of Papua New Guinea to migrating snipe. The abstract of the talk is below.

Latham’s Snipe is one of two Gallinago species confirmed in Papua New Guinea, the other being Swinhoe’s Snipe. Both species are essentially identical in the field, and extreme care and perseverance is required to differentiate them based on observations alone. As a consequence, where the species overlap, sight-based records are often unable to be verified and the distribution of each species in overlap zones is difficult to determine. This is the case for Papua New Guinea, where Swinhoe’s Snipe is considered the dominant species, and the majority of accepted records for Latham’s Snipe stem from coastal locations near the capital of Port Moresby. Between 2016 and 2020, light-level geolocators and satellite transmitters were deployed to obtain migration information for the species. Two geolocator retrievals in south-eastern Australia indicated use of Papua New Guinea on northward and / or southward migration, although the resolution of the data were insufficient to determine stopover locations. Three satellite transmitter deployments (two in Canberra, Australia, and one in Hokkaido, Japan) have provided high resolution location information, and the first conclusive evidence of staging by Latham’s Snipe in the Papua New Guinean highlands (between 1500-2500m ASL). The two Canberra-tagged snipe used modified wetlands and agricultural areas near human habitation in the highlands, while the Hokkaido-tagged snipe stopped on the Papuan coast near the border with Papua New Guinea. While these represent only a small sample size, they nevertheless demonstrate that Latham’s Snipe distribution is significantly broader than officially documented. These findings also highlight the importance of this region for migrating snipe. Targeted investigation of the population extent, habitat use and priority areas for conservation in New Guinea is urgently required.

Please contact Birgita if you would like more information

2020-2021 snipe surveys kick off September 26

This season’s snipe surveys start on Saturday 26th September. We have the most unusual situation this year of course, due to covid and restrictions. That will affect out Melbourne counters and some of our important sites there, which is disppointing. But we are hoping that everyone else can safely get out to their nearby wetlands to find out how many snipe have come back. There have already been quite a few records from some of our regular sites, including an early Victorian arrival at Lara wetlands on August 11.

In other news, the Wild Bird Society of Japan tagged some snipe over winter in Hokkaido with 2g PTTs. Two of those birds are still transmitting, one is in central Honshu and the other is in northern Hokkaido after making what appears to be an attempt to migrate and then turning back. This might have been due to a massive typhoon in the region at the time. Find out more at (in Japanese).

The International Shorebird Twitter Conference is on October 7 and 8. Birgita @geethansen will be giving a twitter presentation on the snipe staging records from PNG on October 7 at 640pm AEST.

We have also had both conservation successes and failures recently. The success was the decision by Gold Coast Council to retain the remains of Black Swan Lake, which had been partially infilled by the adjacent Turf Club for a carpark. Amazing that such a thing still happens in this day and age! Nevertheless, we put our evidence to council about protection of sites that support snipe and the likelihood that snipe were using the site on northward and southward migration. That evidence was considered in the decision. This is a great outcome for conservation and for the local community who want to protect their wetland values.

Unfortunately, at the same time, the QLD government and the Cairns port authority are busily dumping dread spoil and wind farm materials all over the remaining habitat at Tingara Street, Portsmith in Cairns, which snipe use regularly on migration. This site has held nationally significant numbers of snipe on a number of occasions. It is most disappointing to see the destruction of this site for something as mundane as handling dredge spoil, which could potentially be transported anywhere. Clearly we have a long way yet to go to improve snipe conservation.

Pacific Golden Plover surrounded by dredging materials and dredge spoil at Tingara Street. Photo: Jude Friesen

Massive declines of snipe オオジシギ on the breeding grounds in 2020

The Wild Bird Society of Japan have finished analsying their results from the 2020 (boreal) spring breeding grounds surveys in Hokkaido. They surveyed a subset of the core sites that were counted in 2018 (roughly 10%). From those 2018 surveys, they derived a popuation estimate of 35,000 snipe.

They found significantly reduced numbers of snipe across these surveyed sites in May 2020 – the population estimate was around 20,000 birds or 42% less than in 2018. This reflects a massive decline in the species between the two years. While lesser numbers of sites were surveyed, the same population estimation method was used.

The WBSJ researchers were unable to account for this decline at local (Hokkaido) sites, and therefore conclude that the drought and major bushfires in SE Australia over summer 2019-2020 has impacted the breeding population.

You can find out more on the WBSJ website.

We have long known that snipe use alpine / highlands habitats but the size and distribution of the population is unknown. It seems likely that snipe using alpine wetlands have been impacted by the wildlifes. We hope to raise some funds through the bushfire recovery funding schemes to investigate these populations and determine the extent of impacts to both birds and wetlands.

The upcoming national surveys will be critical in determining the extent of the population decline and flow-on effects of the bushfires to populations at important non-breeding sites. I encourage everyone to set aside the surveys dates in their calendar. They are:

September 26, November 21 and January 23.

Never has the need for the nationally coordinated surveys been so strong. Of course, field work will only proceed in areas not subject to COVID19 restrictions.

Japanese video of catching from January

Thanks to the excellent camera work by Ishida-san, Hokkaido Television Broadcasting and the Wild Bird Society of Japan have produced a short video from their visit to Canberra in January. The link to view it is

There have been no further transmissions from any of our tagged snipe, so there will be no further updates on the satellite tracking until next season.

Satellite tracking update 1/06/2020

Unfortunately we have had no further transmissions from our PNG snipe 59 since May 10. The transmitter program shifted to 1 fix every 4 days on May 6, meaning that data downloads are received every 12 days. It is possible that the bird was on the move when the transmitter was trying to get a GPS fix and it has failed. However, it is also possible that something has happened to the bird and / or the tag. We will keeping checking the Argos system regularly to see if our bird has re-appeared.

On a brighter note, one of our colleagues at ANU has dug up their recent field guides to birds of PNG, and it seems that latham’s snipe are listed as vagrants with the known distribution not encompassing the regions our birds have migrated through. So our project has revealed some new and exciting results for the species in PNG.

Satellite tracking update 4/05/2020

Addendum May 13


Two additions to this news blog: Firstly, 59 was still in PNG as of May 10, about 15 km south-east of Koroba. It seems that the window for departing to Japan must surely close soon – will 59 stay in PNG over winter?

このニュース・ブログに2つの追加情報があります。最初の情報です。59は5月10日現在もパプアニューギニア(PNG)のKorobaの南東約15 kmの地点にいます。日本への出発の扉は近いうちに確実に閉ざされるでしょう。59は冬期間PNGに滞在するのでしょうか。(訳注:南半球の冬期間ということ)

Secondly, we are excited to be able to include a Japanese translation of the May 4 update. Our thanks go to Usui Shunji for the translation.


Update May 4

The exciting news is that 59 has been in the Papua New Guinea highlands since April 26. We are still getting daily fixes which has given some really great information about where 59 is each day at midday. It seems that it is doing a final stopover near to locality of Koroba in PNG, before attempting its Pacific Ocean crossing to Japan.

心躍るニュースは、59が4月26日以降パプアニューギニア(Papua New Guinea、PNG)の高地にいるということです。毎日、59の位置情報をまだ取得しています。この位置情報で59が毎日昼頃にどこにいるかについてのいくつかの本当にすばらしい情報を得ることができます。日本への太平洋縦断を試みる前に、PNGのKorobaの近くで最後の休息をとっているようです。

The map below shows the last fix locations from Cape York and the recent fixes from PNG. For comparison, the fix locations of Nintai from 2019 are show in the inset. 59 is about 90 km west of the stopover locations used by Nintai from a year ago, and at a lower elevation (around 1500m).

下の地図は、ケープヨーク(オーストアリア)での最後の位置情報とPNGの最近の位置情報を示しています。比較のために、2019年のNintaiの位置情報を地図の中の挿入図に示します。59は、Nintaiが1年前にいた場所の西約90 kmにいて、そこは標高が低い(約1500m)がわかります。

Our fingers are now crossed hoping that 59 heads off to Japan soon and makes a successful voyage over the ocean.


ELF59’s fixes from mid-April to the start of May. The inset show 59’s current location (green triangles) compared to Nintai’s stopover location from 2019 (yellow triangles). 4月中旬から5月の初めまでのELF59の位置情報。右上の挿入地図は、2019年のNintaiの休息場所(黄色の三角形)と比較した59の現在の場所(緑の三角形)を示しています。

There has been no further transmissions from 64.


Satellite tracking update 23/04/2020

Since our last update, snipe 59 has made its way to Cape York and is hanging around in what appears to be a creek line / wetland area off a tributary of the Coleman River. My colleague Eric Vanderduys, who has spent loads of time working on Cape York, sent me a photo of the habitat in the region. Pretty different to Canberra and Gwydir wetlands!

Typical tropical woodland habitat in the region where Snipe 59 is currently stopped over. Photo Eric Vanderduys

Snipe 64 had made another move northward and on April 15 was south of Grafton on the mighty Clarence River. Unfortunately, there have been no further transmissions since that date. It is probably too early to make doom and gloom pronoucements, as we have had Argos data delivery issues a bit recently. So fingers crossed 64 will suddenly pop up somewhere in the coming days.

Satellite tracking update 6/4/2020

After a week of waiting anxiously, wondering what had happened to snipe 59, the Argos data finally appeared online today. Even the data for snipe 64 were a day late. It isn’t clear why there was a delay in delivering the Argos data, but the wait was worth it. Snipe 59 is now in Far North Queensland, in the tablelands inland of Mission Beach. It is not far from the Herbert River at an altitude of about 700m. Very cool. It arrived there sometime between April 3 and 6. On its way north, it stopped over near the coast at a locality called Inkerman (south of Ayr) between March 29 and April 3. There was single fix north-east of Roma in southern Queensland on March 26, and prior to that it was north of St George and east of the Balonne River for at least 9 days.

Snipe 64 is determined to stick with the NSW coast, and is making its slow and steady way up the coastline. It most recent fixes have been from the floodplains of the Macleay River, just south of South West Rocks (since March 26). It was in the Dyers Crossing area (inland of Tuncurry) for at least 10 days prior to that.