Monday 19 January 2015

Solitary Snipe... long overdue

My first Japan tick of 2015, Solitary Snipe. It could have been the first Japan tick of 2014 if it had been a bit more cooperative, I went for this bird five times last winter without connecting. But that's been par for the Solitary course. I've spent time looking for them on Hokkaido winter trips, wading through deep snow to reach favoured streams or pools, particularly on my first trip up there in 1987 when it would still have been a lifer. I've tried for them so many times in Kansai, where they are a scarce wintering species, but even the most nailed-on individuals temporarily vanish whenever I visit the stretch of river/stream that "they never leave".

I had planned to look for it on Saturday afternoon after work then spend Sunday in the mountains for winter woodland birds. However, when I finished work at noon it was pouring and because of my dreadful track record with the species I just went straight home. No sooner had I got there than my phoned tinged with a text that it was there... and not only had the rain stopped but the sky was a mocking blue. There was no longer time to get there in daylight and my lucky twitching T-shirt came off and hovered briefly over the bin.

My Sunday plan didn't hover, it was ripped up and unceremoniously dumped. The new plan entailed seeing the Snipe as early as possible (really!) followed by a three-hour drive to reach some good woodland birding further followed by a list of back-up places of decreasing distance and interest in case the bird slept late. Or whatever it is they usually do when I'm on my way. I was on site at first light, the bird wasn't. No surprise there. Time passed, hours and hours of it in fact, it was almost funny... almost. There were a few birds of interest around, an Eastern Buzzard flew by now and then and good views of the usual parkland and riverside birds were to be had to. Long-tailed Rosefinch was probably the pick of the bunch but the Grey Wagtail below was the most photogenic.

After seven and a half hours someone located it on a different stretch of river and I confess I ran as fast as tripod, scope, camera and bins would allow. Another birder thoughtfully gave me and a couple of others a lift to the spot and... there it was. I didn't get the usual feeling of excitement a new bird brings, it was more a sense of relief than anything else. It was about 90 metres away rather than the 15-20 metres it normally performs at, I didn't care. In five minutes the sun dipped behind a hill filling the valley with shade transforming my poor digiscoped shots into appalling ones. No matter.

Actually, it's such a beautiful and intricately marked bird that it does deserve better views and maybe I'll go back later this winter in the hope of getting some decent shots of it but for now I'm done with Solitary Snipe. Who knows, it might be one of those crazy cases where once seen, birds keep popping up unexpectedly left and right.

The following images are little more than record shots but for now I'm really happy with them!

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