Arnside and beyond

By gladders

A bird in the hand

A jack snipe in an expert ringer's grip has its vital statistics taken. B had caught the same bird here a few weeks ago, and that showed that these amazingly cryptic, secretive birds remain in the same place possibly for the whole winter.

The technique for catching the jacks is unique to them. Their larger and longer-billed cousin, the common snipe takes off before you get anywhere close to it, bursting up from the ground, and zig-zagging away calling noisily. The jacks by contrast freeze as a predator approaches, pressing their bodies close to the ground where their brown and greenish striations blend them perfectly into the background. They take off at the last possible moment, just before you tread on them, rise silently without the jinking and fly in a small circuit before settling close by.

Since they are virtually invisible when they are in rush and sedge swamps, the way to spot them is with a thermal imaging camera. In your other hand you have a small net, then creep to within swinging distance of the bird, and drop the net over it when you can see it in front of your feet.

That's the theory anyway, this was the only bird B managed to net today, several others were missed by the net or took flight before they were spotted by the camera. There were probably 4 or 5 jack snipes in this area, and we flushed about 15 common snipes.

The jacks are wintering birds with us, here from their breeding grounds in Arctic Finland or Russia. It's a species that is incredibly difficult to census since they so rarely show themselves. The chances of this bird ever being trapped again are vanishingly small, unless of course B traps it here again when he visits again in a few weeks. Until then, it's likely that no-one will know these gorgeous little waders are here.

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