The Common Snipe: My Introduction to the Bird World

There he was, perched on a post in the marsh, close to the road. A strange, chunky, brown bird that was about 10” long with an extremely long beak. I was at a seminar at Utah State University and the professor, that morning, had taken us bird watching. “What is that?” I asked. “A Common Snipe,” the teacher replied. I was flabbergasted! Snipes were supposed to be a Boy Scout myth, but there one was just as big as life! I was “hooked.” Upon returning home, every bird seen now became a point of curiosity. Binoculars and a field guide became a necessity. Later on, we started photography. I discovered a truth: you can’t become aware of one facet of nature without becoming aware of all the others. Thus trees, flowers, etc. had to be learned about.

The Snipe is a stocky species of marsh and wet meadow. During courtship, in the early spring, the male rises high in the sky and makes a flight display called “winnowing’ – swooping through the sky in a series of loops with the wind whistling through his wings and tail. This causes an eerie fluttering sound. Perching on a post is a normal resting area. However, during nesting season, they are secretive and seldom seen unless flushed. They then explode up and away.

Classified as a shore bird, the long, straight beak allows probing in shallow water with a rapid jabbing motion for the small organisms that abide there.

On our first visit to the new state park – Castle Rocks, we were greeted at the entrance sign by a Snipe just sitting there and solarizing. This seemed to be a good omen and a fitting introduction to this newly opened area.

Courtship Variety

by Dave Hanks

You are probably aware of some common bird courtship rituals – such as a male feeding a female, or the male and female preening each other; the cooing of doves, and the singing rituals of many other bird species. Grouse and turkeys display by strutting. Some mammals appear to be fighting, but it is only the male and female rough-housing – which gets their hormones flowing.

Other species have some unique courtship methods. Spiders are especially unique. The Australian Red-Back male is much smaller than the female. The female requires the male to do an elaborate dance for over an hour to two hours. During the dance, the male connects his web to her web. He then taps a drum-like rhythm on her abdomen. If he stops too soon, she will bite his head off – which she does anyway, after mating.

Rhino courtship is called “Bluff and Bluster”. When in estrus, the female urinates on dung piles to lure a male on. The male will scatter these piles in an attempt to keep other males away. The bull then snorts and swings his head side to side and runs from the female. Afterwards, the pair will then snort and spar, with the female working the male over vigorously. The couple will stay together for several days or up to several weeks.

The Leaf-Nosed Bat will find an opening in the rock of a cave that is narrow enough to only allow one other to enter, thus keeping other males out. He will call and flap his wings to entice any available female. If one enters his little abode, he wraps his wings around her and nuzzles her. If she doesn’t fly off, they will mate.

A favorite bird of mine is the COMMON SNIPE (pictured). I like him, not only for his looks, but for his “winnowing” display that can be heard on a spring morning over a meadow. He gains altitude and then descends in a spiral pattern. The air rushing through his wings makes sounds like the bleating of a goat. In many languages he is known as the flying goat. He will, also, make shallow dives to produce a “drumming” sound with his tail. Such a repertoire to go through in order to attract female attention!

Resting after the morning’s aerial displays

THE SNIPE: An essay of personal history

by Dave Hanks

What is a Snipe? Is it a mammal? Is it a bird ? Just what is it ? And why did it cause a turning point in my life, a new awakening, you could say? Well it’s a bird. But how could a brownish, medium sized, wading bird change anyone? But the first one I ever saw caused a significant emotional experience in me to say the least. A moment that opened my eyes and attitudes into a much wider perspective. Snipe weren’t supposed to be real, only mystical creatures of boy scout pranks.

It happened in a summer Biology workshop called: “Animals in the classroom”. That previous spring some students and I had built a “Reptile Garden” in my High School classroom. They had expressed a desire to have some snakes and lizards to look at. When I read about this workshop, it seemed like just the thing to give a new dimension to my Biology classes. It was a week long course but one day was devoted to bird watching – “sissy stuff”. One morning early, the class hopped into a van and headed out to a marsh only to come to a sudden stop by an odd looking bird with a long, heavy beak sitting on a farm post. In the morning sun it appeared larger than life. “What’s that?” I cried. “A Wilson’s Snipe” the professor said. “What! They aren’t real!” But there it was, just as chunky and cute, and relaxed as it could be. Well I was hooked, and when I arrived back home, I started trying to identify every bird I saw; a difficult task without a field guide or binoculars, so those items were purchased and life took on a new meaning.

Now events changed in a hurry. Field trips were added to my various class agendas and I discovered something. You can’t study one thing without becoming more aware of everything else surrounding it. It’s like “Hugging and Kissing” – “one thing leads to another”! Trees, shrubs, wildflowers, insects, mammals, reptiles; I had to become proficient in all these areas in order to lead a class in the field. As a result, every summer included two to three new workshops of natural science.

One workshop ( Ecology unbelievably ) even required us to write two nature poems – much to my dismay. I was going home rather than do that, but I stayed and suffered through it. Well, Surprise! – I actually liked writing. After all the English classes I’d had, it took an Ecology class to get me hooked. The drive home was spent making up verses and I haven’t stopped writing since.

What a wondrous thing open eyes give to a person: new vistas, life shaping occurrences, and a big change in attitudes about everything from philosophy, science, life in general, and even politics. It was inevitable that photography would eventually be added to preserve and enhance all these new experiences.

Life’s subtle pleasures are so rewarding that I don’t have to seek “a thrill a minute” for pleasure. A new richness has superseded all other frivolous pleasures. It all began with that Snipe on the post and I’m so thankful that he was there!

A common resting spot - A fence post by a wet meadow

A common resting spot – A fence post by a wet meadow