Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Wilson’s Snipe flight display at Camas Prairie Centennial Marsh

We kicked off the month of May with a trip to see our families in Rexburg. On the way out we stopped at Camas Prairie Centennial Marsh, one of our favorite stops along Highway 20.

IMG_7614

Our parking spot on Swamp Road south of Hill City, near Camas Prairie Centennial Marsh, Camas County. May 2, 2014.

We found a nice place to park and feed Nora while birding along Swamp Road, just south of Hill City. We weren’t there long before a Killdeer started complaining about our presence. I presume it had a nest nearby, though we didn’t see one.

IMG_7322

Killdeer near Camas Prairie Centennial Marsh, Camas County. May 2, 2014.

Staying in one place gave us a good chance to enjoy the sights and sounds of the aerial displays performed by some of the shorebirds that nest on the marsh. As soon as we stepped out of the car we heard both Willets and Long-billed Curlews singing in circles around us.

IMG_7384

Willet near Camas Prairie Centennial Marsh, Camas County. May 2, 2014.

IMG_7590

Long-billed Curlew near Camas Prairie Centennial Marsh, Camas County. May 2, 2014.

The loudest and most abundant shorebirds on this trip were Wilson’s Snipes. We had probably half a dozen within 100 yards of where we parked, all of them noisily winnowing and circling over and over again.

IMG_7412

Wilson’s Snipes near Camas Prairie Centennial Marsh, Camas County. May 2, 2014.

IMG_7465

Wilson’s Snipes (lower left corner) near Camas Prairie Centennial Marsh, Camas County. May 2, 2014.

These birds are devilishly difficult to photograph, thanks to their high speed aerial displays. I spent close to an hour trying to photograph these birds, with them repeatedly making close approaches in good light, and I only managed to come away with a few semi-decent photos. Most birds are hard to capture in flight, but these snipes were probably the most difficult flight subject I’ve tried to capture so far.

IMG_7420

Wilson’s Snipe near Camas Prairie Centennial Marsh, Camas County. May 2, 2014.

The birds would fly up to a high elevation, make a wide arc across the sky, and then suddenly drop into a dive. A winnowing sound is produced as the birds drop into and then pull out of the dive. The winnowing sound isn’t actually produced by the bird’s voice, but instead is produced by the wind passing over their outer tail feathers. According to All About Birds:

“Researchers have done wind tunnel tests with Wilson’s Snipe feathers to try and duplicate the “winnowing” sound that’s made as birds fly with their tail feathers fanned. They found that it’s the outermost tail feathers, or rectrices, that generate the sound, which apparently happens at airspeeds of about 25 miles per hour.”

We noticed in several of our photos that you could see the two outermost tail feathers on either side were somewhat separated from the rest of the tail, presumably to give them extra room to vibrate and flutter to produce the winnowing sound.

IMG_7557

Wilson’s Snipe near Camas Prairie Centennial Marsh, Camas County. May 2, 2014.

These birds are built for speed. The All About Birds website gives a good description for how this birds stocky appearance relates to it’s capability for such fast flight:

“Wilson’s Snipe look so stocky thanks in part to the extra-large pectoral (breast) muscles that make up nearly a quarter of the bird’s weight—the highest percent of all shorebirds. Thanks to their massive flight muscles this chunky sandpiper can reach speeds estimated at 60 miles an hour.”

IMG_7441

Wilson’s Snipe near Camas Prairie Centennial Marsh, Camas County. May 2, 2014.

Some of the dives we saw seemed awfully risky. I’m sure the snipes have a different perspective, but quite frequently we’d see a snipe drive straight at the ground, only to pull up at the last second, just soon enough to throw their feet underneath them to land in the marsh.

IMG_7548

Wilson’s Snipe near Camas Prairie Centennial Marsh, Camas County. May 2, 2014.

We tried to capture some video of a snipe in flight. It was difficult to keep the bird in frame, as you’ll see, but hopefully it gives you a sense for just how fast and erratic their display flights really are.

Further towards the center of the marsh we found a few other nice birds, though the light was quickly fading, making it difficult to get decent photos. We did get a couple of nice captures of Yellow-headed Blackbirds and a Sandhill Crane.

IMG_7775

Yellow-headed Blackbird at Camas Prairie Centennial Marsh, Camas County. May 2, 2014.

IMG_7809

Yellow-headed Blackbird at Camas Prairie Centennial Marsh, Camas County. May 2, 2014.

IMG_7683

Sandhill Crane at Camas Prairie Centennial Marsh, Camas County. May 2, 2014.

A beautiful sunset over the marsh was a great way to finish off our stop.

IMG_7798

Camas Prairie Centennial Marsh, Camas County. May 2, 2014.

No comments:

Post a Comment