News

Satellite tracking takes off again!

February has proved to be an exciting but challenging month, with the team in Canberra setting out to deploy 6 PinPoint Argos 75 satellite transmitters on snipe at Jerrabomberra wetlands. We learned much from our trial two years ago with the PTTs, so quite a lot of changes were made to our protocols to improve the deployment process. A big part of this was  holding snipe for a period time after the transmitter harness was fitted, to allow the bird to settle into its harness and us to monitor the bird to check it is OK.

With this in mind, we set about building the best ever indoor wetland! It took nearly two days and about a dozen people to set up. With the help of some of the parks rangers, the nearby Environmental Watering construction contractors (and their earth moving equipment), a group of people trudged into the wetland to fetch the enclosure “furnishing”.

We needed a tent, a tarp floor, dirt, wetland mud and plants, trays for wetland mud, water trays, plenty of live food like mealworms and small crickets, a way to recapture a bird and a even a security camera with night vision! Some poor souls even picked through the compost for fresh maggots!

On thursday 7th february, a large team of volunteers both experienced and new, set out nets in Kelly’s swamp north, in readiness for catching friday morning. At first light on Friday, the team caught 6 snipe, of which only one ended up being big enough to fit a transmitter. Also included in that catch was 2 recaptures – one juvenile from earlier in the season (engraved leg flag 78) and one from the previous year (ELF 90), which has been seen at Jerra on and off throughout the whole season.

Birgita, with help from Inka Veltheim, painstakingly fitted the harness. Once that was done, the snipe was weighed and placed in “Snipe Hilton”. After that, it was nearly 24 hours of walking on tiptoes, whispering, shooing away an unexpected arrival of two busloads of people wanting to tour the wetlands, eating crappy food and chocolate, and taking turns to monitor the camera and check how the bird was going.

The team was heartened to observe our snipe drinking, resting, picking at the mud like she was foraging and occasionally preening without any obvious signs of trouble from her harness.

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If you find this transmitter anywhere, let us know!

After dark on friday, while 2 people were left monitoring our snipe, the rest of the team head back out into the wetland, this time to set nets at the south end of Kelly’s swamp. Unfortunately, during that afternoon Canberra had torrential rainfall and by the evening, there was water everywhere. Which meant the snipe that left overnight to forage elsewhere did not return. Only a single snipe was caught saturday morning in an area that is usually very successful for catching. And our single bird was not big enough for a transmitter. It was very disappointing, especially as we had out biggest team of helpers that morning!

We decided to check and adjust the harness on our tagged bird before processing the newbie. We let her go after re-weighing her and off she flew strongly, straight into the wetland right out the front of the wetland centre! It was fantastic to see her fly off, looking so well.

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Patience by name and patience by nature. She was a top snipe!

The team decided to name her Patience (Nintai 忍耐 in Japanese – we apologise to our Japanese colleagues if we have used the wrong Kanji here!). This is because she was the most patient bird ever the whole time the transmitter was fitted! But, also the patience of us as researchers and volunteers deserved some recognition.

During the first week, Nintai’s transmitter was programmed to take fixes twice a day, once at midnight and once at midday. During the week, she has spent most of her time at the nearby turf farm, although by the weekend, she had returned to Jerra wetlands.

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Heaps of people helped with this catch and were amazing. Birgita would like to thank all the volunteers who were part of this fantastic team: Lori Gould & Kelly Bateup, Nicki & Emily Taws, Michael Maconachie, John Lawson, Inka Veltheim, Grant Battersby, Mark Jenkins, Heather Mcginness, The Callaway family, Chris Davey, Kristy Gould, Sophie and Lily Mills, Tristan Derwick, Adam & Tom Leavesley, Millie and John Sutherland Saines, Pete Morris, Shoshana Rapley, Jas & Ash Allnutt, and Jon Coleman. And a special thanks to Kristy, John, Kumiko and the rangers who had to dig up my pedantically-identified patches of wetland mud from the swamp!

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P3! Our second geolocator snipe caught!

I am thrilled to be able to report that after months of gruelling and often unsatisfying field work, we have finally retrieved another geolocator snipe with a full migration light record. This is the second only for the project and the first recapture for Canberra. The bird was originally tagged at Jerrabomberra wetlands on December 10, 2017. It was recaptured in the same area on November 18, and was in good condition. It was 1 of only 3 birds caught on the day, the other 2 were juveniles!

For those who remember T0’s track from 2016, they will immediately notice a difference. The analyses of these data were a bit tricky, and further refinement may shift some of the stopover locations. So it is possible you’ll see a slightly different map at some stage in the future. However, we can say for sure that P3 has staged somewhere in south-east Queensland on its northward migration, it has spent the breeding season in either the very north of Hokkaido or southern Sakhalin (around late April to early August), and then returned to Australia via central Honshu and possibly even Papua New Guinea.

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Approximate track P3
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Welcome back P3!

We have now had a total of 4 confirmed recaptures / resightings of last year’s birds at Jerrabomberra wetlands this season. That corresponds to around a 18% return rate in the year following first capture. That’s pretty good numbers for snipe! These include a second geolocator bird ELF 94, which has so far eluded recapture, plus ELFs 90 and 92.

I would like to thank the volunteers in Canberra who have laboured alongside me in the swamps in Canberra, trying to catch snipe through severely sleep-deprived nights. And thanks to my broader Latham’s Snipe Project team, both my colleague Lori Gould in Canberra, and my original Port Fairy team.

September 2018 count results

In other news, not quite as sensational but still surprisingly good, was the results from the September 15 count. Despite the appalling weather conditions across south-east Australia that day, plus the horrendous drought conditions inland which may have affected southward migrating birds, we still had a total count of 562 across more than 110 sites. Given the weather, that compares well to last September’s count of 584 snipe across ~80 sites.

The results from the November count are still being entered, but early signs suggest the numbers might almost double. A large count of around 150 snipe in Robe has made a big contribution to the likely large numbers for that month.

Thanks once again to all the counters, those that diligently get out each survey and count their site, and those new comers this year who have added new sites and information.

Drought effects on snipe?

The count data from the September 15 surveys is still dribbling in, but the numbers received so far show less birds this year compared to previous years. It is still probably too early to say if the drought conditions are affecting snipe, given we are waiting on a few more count results, and conditions on the count day were terrible (really windy and wet in SE Aus). But could this also be a sign of things to come this season? The Bureau of Meteorology has declared this year to be one of the driest on record http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/drought/. And several unusual snipe observations and events have occurred , that hint at potential impacts on migrating birds due to the dry conditions (2 instances of birds that have suffered on migration, one in QLD and one in Gippsland; and 2 unusual behavioural observations).

If you see snipe doing something unusual let us know!

The November 10 count will be really important to see if the low counts are just due to bad weather or birds arriving late, or if there are drought effects on migrants influencing their choice of non-breeding terminus location.

Andrew tramping through the Moyne estuary railtrail carpark swamp, where we flushed 2 barn owls from the wetland!

Snipe talk series 2018-2019

Birgita is conducting a roving series of talks on the Latham’s Snipe project. These talks are open to anyone who has an interest, but they will also be providing updates on the key findings and outcomes from the project for volunteers who have been involved.

The 2019 schedule at the moment is:

  • March 1 – Phillip Island Nature Park
  • March 21 – Geelong Field Naturalists Club, Geelong
  • April 6 – BirdLife Southern Highlands, Bowral, NSW (Venue TBD)
  • April 8 – Ballina (Venue TBD)
  • April 10 – Hunter Bird Observers Club, Hunter Wetlands Centre

This page will be updated from time-to-time. So if you’re interested in attending talks but can’t make the next one, keep a watch on this page for the next upcoming talks.

Please contact Birgita (b.hansen@federation.edu.au) if you want more information.

Gippsland talk September 19

This talk was well attended by BirdLife Bairnsdale members, and we had some great discussion and interactions during the talk. Birgita also got the chance to visit the wetland behind the Bairnsdale Aquatic and Recreation Centre, where good numbers of snipe are regularly seen during counts (range in the last two seasons 27-81). Several snipe were seen just wandering around in the open while piles of noisy school children passed, apparently oblivious to the wetland wonders so near them!

Birgita would like to thank Jack Winterbottom, and John and Pam Hutchison for organising the talk and venue. And she would like to thank Jenni and Jim Reside for hosting her.

South-west talks July 7 & 8

Both the Mt Gambier and Port Fairy talks were well attended, despite crappy weather over the weekend which might have otherwise kept people at home! We had 25 people attend the Mt Gambier session, which was held in a really nice seminar space at the Public library – we even had catering. In addition to providing a project update, Birgita outlined the current survey coverage for south-east SA, identifying where there were survey gaps. She also visited Lake McIntyre with Rosey Pounsett and Noel Boyle.

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Lake McIntyre in Millicent

The following day at the community centre in Port Fairy there were 26 people and we had a fabulous feast of sushi thanks to the South Beach Wetlands and Landcare Group. Birgita gave a similar overview on the project, and there were some great questions about the tracking and data specific to Port Fairy.

A short article was written about the event: News article in The Standard 

Birgita would like to thank Bryan and Toni for organising the talk and catering in Mt Gambier, and Jodie, Don and Sherril for organising the Snipe, Sushi and Swamps event. And many thanks to all the attendees who took time out of their weekends to attend.

Canberra Ornithologists Group, Sept 12

We had a good crowd of people turn to listen to Birgita give an update on the project, including news about the survey results from Hokkaido, just recently compiled by the Wild Bird Society of Japan, which demonstrated that over 50% of breeding sites have deteriorated in condition. Lori Gould also talked about the outcomes of the ACT snipe monitoring.

We have put out a call to ACT folks interested in helping with catching at Jerrabomberra wetlands over late spring and summer. Please contact Birgita or Lori if you’d like to help out. The more, the merrier!

 

Children’s International Conservation Collaboration

The Latham’s Snipe project team has returned from Japan after a fabulous trip to Hokkaido with the Canberra Young Rangers. Between May 18 and 23, Birgita, Lori, Jodie and Richard, accompanied by Ted, Carol and the Young Rangers Connor, Kelly, Olivia, Ryu and Sophie, joined the Wild Bird Society of Japan team at Lake Utonai Nature Center to exchange information and stories about Latham’s Snipe.

The trip began with a visit to Tomakomai City Council to meet with the Mayor Hirofumi Iwakura. Nakamura-san gave an overview about Latham’s Snipe research and monitoring in Japan and Birgita followed with complementary information from Australia. The mayor asked some very insightful questions about the birds and their conservation. This visit was a very great honour for the team and even featured in the local news!

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Lori and Usui presenting the Mayor, Iwakura-san with Dave Wilson’s now famous tea towell design
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In the Tomakomai news

After that we had a weekend of meeting and greeting children and their parents from the local community, learning about snipe research and monitoring in Hokkaido, and Then participating in snipe surveys around Tomakomai. On a freezing cold sunday morning at 5am, with snow still visible on the hills in the distance, the Australian team joined around 20 Japanese children and parents, and Hokkaido Television Broadcasting, lead by WBSJ members Tatsuya Ura, Takemae Asako, Hironobu Tajiri, Satoshi Nakamura, and Usui Shunji to count displaying snipe at survey grids (meshes) located around the area.

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Team A, lead by Tatsuya, counting displaying snipe in Tomakomai area
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Some of the counting team at Utonai-ko Nature Center

The following week, the team then visited 2 schools in the Tomakomai area, the first being Uenae Elementary School and the second being Utonai Elementary School. The team was really pleased to meet up again with some of the school students they met in 2016 at Uenae. Participants exchanged greetings in each other’s languages, learned about the current status of the global snipe population and then joined in on the snipe games and art.

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Jodie and Usui showing the Uenae school children how to make snipe prints on a 3D-printed printing press

A much bigger group of students awaited the team at Utonai, but all were fantastic and hugely attentive, remembering facts and figures about snipe provide during introductory talks by Satoshi and Birgita. The team also got a tour of the school and its fantastic facilities.

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Utonai Elementary School, Tomakomai

We are exceptionally grateful to staff at both schools for hosting our visit and giving us the opportunity to interact with school children. We are also immensely grateful to Nakamura-san for organising our visits and especially, arranging the honour of a visit with the Tomakomai Mayor.

After the school visits, some of the team members joined the WBSJ to undertake snipe surveys in other parts of Hokkaido. This was a really great opportunity not only to see snipe in their breeding habitats and observe their amazing display flights, but also to see the wonders of Hokkaido’s landscapes in spring when the cherry blossums were still flowering and the snow still lying on the hills.

 

And here’s a short video of a snipe display flight taken on Bigita’s phone – turn the volume up for this one! If anyone has a better video they’d like to contribute, we’d be very happy to replace Birgita’s video with it.

Nabe: a Japanese classic

And of course tasting the local cuisine is always high on the list of visiting priorities!

Dinner on the last night with the WBSJ was at an Izakaya restaurant in Tomakomai where we were treated to delicious Japanese food – a classic Nabe (hot pot) pictured right.

 

The Latham’s Snipe project would like to thank all the staff at the Wild Bird Society of Japan for being such fabulous hosts and generously giving up so much of their time. We would particularly like to thank the nature center staff Satoshi, Rika, Rumi and Hiro for having us stay. And many thanks also to our delightful and entertaining translator Usui Shunji.

We gratefully acknowledge the support provided by the Australia Japan Foundation that allowed us to make this trip.

Latham’s Snipe project team head off to Japan for the breeding season

This May, the team is heading back to Hokkaido this time in the company of a small group of able youngsters from the Young Rangers program in Canberra. Birgita, Lori, Jodie and Rich will be accompanied by Sophie, Connor, Olivia, Kelly and Ryu. We have a fantastic program planned, thanks to Satoshi Nakamura at the Lake Utonai Nature Centre, Tomakomai. The team will be visiting some of the schools in Tomakomai including Uenae Elementary school, which we also visited in 2016. We are also honoured to have a visit scheduled with the Mayor of Tomakomai.

Some of the team members will stay on after the school visits to help Tatsuya Ura and his team at the Wild Bird Society of Japan with a census of breeding sites across a wide range of sites.

Find out more about Lake Utonai sanctuary and the Wild Bird Society of Japan.

 

2017-2018 count results

The numbers are in, and what a great season it has been! The number of sites counted ranged from 88 during the September count to 100 in January! A sensational effort! And that brought with it totals of 585, 1459 and 914 snipe. The count in January was remarkable in some ways as, even though we didn’t have the massive count of 550 birds in Robe, we still had a big total count across all the sites. This was driven by larger than usual numbers in East Gippsland, north-west Tasmania, and northern NSW, as well as high numbers again in places like Geelong-Bellarine and Peterborough. And as with previous January counts, the numbers at many sites were higher than during spring. It was also interesting to see quite a few snipe in the north, as well as in the south at this time.

Once again, we’d like to thank our volunteers who have made such a great effort over the season. We are immensely grateful for the contribution from around the eastern states and we really hope that everyone can be available again next season.

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Snipe habitat in Robe, January 2018. Photo: Sarah Campbell

The count dates for 2018-2019 are:

  • September 15
  • November 10
  • January 12