The Elusive Wilson’s Snipe

The preferred habitat of the Wilson’s Snipe often isn’t pretty but they’re elusive enough that I’ll photograph them anywhere I get the chance.


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1/1600, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM @ 400mm, not baited, set up or called in

I photographed this snipe yesterday morning at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. The setting of messy water and rotting phragmites stems couldn’t be much more unattractive but it must look just fine to the bird so I’m okay with it too (sort of…).

I was quite close to the bird so I used my shorter zoom lens and older camera.



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1/1600, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM @ 400mm, not baited, set up or called in

When they’re drinking very few birds can suck water while their heads are down (pigeons and doves are an exception) so like most birds snipes must tilt their bills upward and use gravity to swallow. This snipe had just dipped its bill in the water and then tilted it upward to allow the water droplets to flow down toward its throat.

Cohesive forces have formed the two droplets into near-spheres so they look like little, clear marbles rolling down the channel formed by the mandible and maxilla of the bill.



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1/1600, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM @ 400mm, not baited, set up or called in

Then the snipe approached me even closer but soon after this shot was taken another vehicle came up from behind and I backed up to make room for it to pass. When I returned to the spot the bird was gone.

Over the years I’ve probably only had about a half-dozen good opportunities with snipes so I was pleased that this bird allowed me so close, despite the unattractive setting.



Golden Eagle In An Unusual Displacement Of A Cooper’s Hawk

Raptors often displace other raptors from perches – it’s just something they do. But this time was a little different.

I’m not sure why they do it. I’ve wondered if it’s a way of establishing or maintaining dominance when it’s done within the same species or maybe it’s just a form of rambunctious play. When one species displaces another they don’t seem to do it in full attack mode so perhaps it’s a safer way of establishing and defending territory. Raptors displacing other raptors from perches is a behavior I see often. In fact I saw it happen twice on my last day in the field – once it was a Turkey Vulture displacing another vulture on the top of a power pole and the second incident I’ve documented below.


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Three days ago I was driving a remote road in Box Elder County when a huge flock of Turkey Vultures lifted off to my right and close to the road. Soon it became apparent that one of the birds was a juvenile Golden Eagle which crossed the road in front of me. I quickly stopped my pickup and fired off a few butt shots as it cruised low over the hillside…



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and then landed in the grasses too far away for quality images. The eagle soon became fixated on something to our left.



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That something turned out to be an accipiter (I believe it to be a Cooper’s Hawk) perched about 150′ (my best estimate) further to my left of the eagle. The large rock was the most elevated and presumably most desirable raptor perch in the area.



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Soon the eagle began making its way to the rock but it never flew, it simply walked and hopped, sometimes assisted by its wings.



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It was quite a distance to walk so it took the eagle some time to get near the rock – here the rock and the Cooper’s Hawk are just out of frame to the left and the eagle was definitely giving the accipiter the evil eye.



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Just as the two birds were close enough for me to get both of them in the frame the Cooper’s Hawk apparently decided that discretion was the better part of valor and vacated the perch.



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But the much smaller raptor tried to show that it really wasn’t intimidated by…



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flying very close to the eagle as it departed.



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And sure enough, once the Cooper’s Hawk was gone the eagle claimed the rock…



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and glared in the direction the accipiter had disappeared.

I don’t know why the eagle didn’t land on the rock and displace the Cooper’s Hawk in the first place. Perhaps it hadn’t seen the perched hawk until after it landed in the grass but I doubt that. It seems more likely to me that the eagle was tentative in its actions because it was young, inexperienced and just a little naïve.

Whatever the explanation it was fascinating behavior to watch.


Note: One Facebook reader says unequivocally that the accipiter is a Sharp-shinned Hawk and not a Cooper’s Hawk. He’s probably right because that person seems highly qualified to make the call and I’ve always had difficulty distinguishing between the two species.