The Trouble With Snipes

The trouble with snipes is they are shy and stay well-hidden in the grass. You might be near them without knowing it. Then you come just a bit too close and they take off like a bullet.

What is a photographer to do? The answer, like many other questions of bird photography, is to get lucky!

The one time when I had a good long view of a snipe was in Hail Haor. I was lying on my belly among some weeds about fifteen feet from the edge of a beel, waiting for shorebirds to land on the muddy bank. Along the far edge of the beel appeared an unusual shape that bobbed rapidly while moving along the bank. As it came closer I saw its extraordinarily long beak which lent it the strange profile. It went back and forth over the mud, probing the ground deeply with its beak, looking for worms and insects to catch. It did not notice me – luckily – and I was able to take a few photographs. Eventually I twitched and it took off in a hurry.

The snipe is a bird of grass and mud, with a characteristic long, straight beak that is finely pitted and armed with sensory nerves. There are four species of snipes found in Bangladesh. The easiest to see is the common snipe. The others are pintail snipe, jack snipe and greater painted snipe. Except for the last one which breeds here, snipes are winter visitors to our land.

I have seen snipes several times in many areas. Except for one instance, my views were exceedingly fleeting. Their shyness also makes them hard to photograph.

The migrant snipes breed during the summer in northern lands. In Iceland I saw common snipes as they flew in circles in the sky making a curious loud drumming sound. That drumming sound, subject of much ornithological research, is to attract a mate. The consensus today is that the snipe makes its drumming sound by beating its tail feathers against each other.

Some weeks ago, during a short break from the heavy rains, I was standing at the edge of a rain-soaked field in Purbachol, wondering if it was worth my while traversing it, when I heard a flapping noise and saw two birds coming in for a noise landing on the far side. I instinctively raised my camera and took some pictures. Then I looked through my binoculars, expecting to see two of the lapwings that inhabit that field. I was astonished to see two snipes sitting in the deep, watery grass. I got a few more pictures and then took a step forward. That was the end of that encounter as they took off.

Years ago I ran into a greater painted snipe in Hail Haor. I was able to photograph its head – bobbing above the grass level – before it flew. I also had fleeting encounters with snipes in the National Botanical Garden, in the grassland near the lake. In all cases, they would not let me come close, taking off very fast once approached.

For me snipes continue to remain elusive and it is a special day when I see one.