Saturday, June 16, 2012

Wilson's Snipe

I was one among many victims of the legendary "Snipe Hunt" as a new Boy Scout at 12 years old. I then became responsible for perpetuating the Snipe Hunt on dozens of other scouts who came after me. Ahh...the memories.

Our method of carrying out the hunt was to take young and impressionable scouts out at night into the middle of the woods or sagebrush (depending on where we were camping in Idaho). They each had a pillow case open and ready to receive the snipes that we were to scare towards them from the bush. We all “knew” that snipe were such dumb birds that they’d run right into the open bag. For the harmless hazing to be complete, we confiscated their flashlights because we needed those lights to scare the snipes in their direction. The young scouts were left standing in a circle in the middle-of-nowhere enthusiastically calling in the snipes, while we older scouts supposedly went out into the wilderness "to scare the snipes back toward them".

I can still hear the kids hollering "Here snipe! Here snipe!" from the hills while we older scouts sat cozily sipping hot cocoa and snickering around the camp fire.

When the shouts began to calm and the new scouts finally found their way back to camp in the dark; their initiation was complete…almost instant maturity obtained by having been deceived…and once they got over their initial irritation and realized it was funny, they too would one day pass on the myth.

Now my own son has seen real Wilson's Snipes with me on a few occasions while out on family birding excursions. I am confident he will never become a victim of the Snipe Hunt initiation. It will probably be banned as soon as some hapless Boy Scout spends a cold night in the woods after a failed Snipe Hunt and his parents sue the BSA. So as a responsible and trained adult Scout adviser, I highly discourage this ritualistic hazing and will focus on helping them see a real snipe in nature, like these I recently saw in Star, Idaho:

In my experience, I have seen as many Wilson's Snipes on fence posts as I have seen on the ground or on the wing. I have heard them winnowing from atop the post and during impressive flight displays.

12 comments:

  1. Muy buenas fotos de esta Agachadiza.Saludos

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  2. Really neat bird. I've seen then occasionally at the Gilbert Water Ranch but nowhere else in the Phoenix area. Cool to see them up on a post, elevated from their usual muddy quarry.

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    1. I couldn't remember seeing many Wilson's Snipe in Arizona, but your comment prompted me to look back over my eBird records. Seems that I saw them half a dozen times at the Gilbert Water Ranch and a couple other locations in AZ. Watching and hearing their flight display is one of the must-have experiences in birding.

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  3. Robert, I very much enjoyed your "snipe hunting" story. Your son is lucky that he has gotten to see the real thing. Terrific images of a very cool bird! I saw my first Wilson's Snipe last winter in Florida.

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    1. Thanks Julie. The good ol' snipe hunt. Your comment about seeing your first one in Florida makes me curious. Do you not have them in frequent in your part of Illinois? eBird sightings map indicate that they are seen pretty regularly across all of North America. I suppose you'd have to be in the right habitat.

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  4. I saw my very first Wilson's Snipe the other night...what gorgeous markings on their wings. Awesome post, super shots!!!

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    1. Congratulations Robbie on seeing your first Snipe. They are really neat looking birds. The stripes down their backs help us differentiate them from other shore birds. They mnemonic saying is "Snipes have stripes."

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  5. This is very interesting! Thank you for sharing.

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  6. Beautiful snipe photos Robert! I almost missed this post, and I'm very happy that I didn't. :-)

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