Latham’s Snipe Gallinago hardwickii is a migratory wader that visits eastern Australia each Spring. I’ve seen them in a number of locations around Newstead – along the Loddon River, around the shores of Cairn Curran and most commonly on the wetlands of the Moolort Plains when they are suitably wet. Yesterday I had my best sighting ever – at least a dozen birds at Walker’s Swamp.
As a child growing up in the Western District I knew this bird as the Japanese Snipe (they breed in Japan and eastern Russia) – they were common back then on the wetlands of southern Victoria. Nowadays it’s pretty unusual to encounter more than one or two birds and this usually involves a flushed snipe disappearing at speed before the camera even gets a chance!
Yesterday I managed to spot a couple of individuals roosting on a series of small muddy islands in a rapidly drying Walker’s Swamp. Latham’s Snipe are wary and cryptic birds and will spend much of their time feeding quietly for invertebrates in shallow mud near the cover of rushes and other short vegetation. As I moved through the swamp I disturbed a series of birds – I estimate there were at least a dozen in total.
Latham’s Snipe are highly mobile in Australia, moving between suitable habitat throughout the season. These birds are unlikely to stay more than another month or so and as the Moolort swamps are drying fast we may se them around a brimming full cairn Curran in coming weeks before they head north along the east coast en route back to the northern hemisphere. Rough estimates of their numbers suggest an Australian population of less than 30,000 birds with about a third of these found in Victoria over summer. There is some concern that numbers of Latham’s Snipe may be declining – once again reinforcing the importance of wetlands on the Moolort Plains for biodiversity conservation.
Postscript: I’ve just learnt about a terrific new project on this species … The Latham’s Snipe Project was started by a group of passionate ornithologists to better understand the ecology of the Latham’s snipe and their use of wetlands. Their efforts focus on the Port Fairy area in south-western Victoria, breeding areas in Hokkaido, Japan and the migration patterns along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. The team uses a range of techniques to better understand the species: observations, habitat monitoring, geolocators and satellite tracking. Click here to learn more.