The snipes are on their way. From the records listed in “The Avifauna of Singapore” (Lim Kim Seng. 2009 ), we can expect the uncommon Pin-tailed and Common Snipes to arrive in the latter part of September. The rare Swinhoe’s Snipe may arrive around the same time but we do not have any records until November.
Early this year, we stalked out grass patches at the Muslim Cemetery, the marshes at the Japanese Gardens and Lorong Halus trying to get a photo of the Swinhoe’s Snipe. The key is to get shots of the tail feathers spread out. This can only happen when they preen, when they are flying or coming in to land. They also have to be facing away from you. A tall order and a daunting task, certainly not for the impatient. Francis Yap in his blog http://fryap.wordpress.com/category/photovideo-technique/detailed step by step instructions on how to get such shots.
While the Common Snipe can be separated in the field from the other two Gallinagos, it is a different story for the Pin-tailed and Swinhoe’s snipes. Dave Bakewell had devoted a blog on how to tell the differences between all these three snipe species here: http://digdeep1962.wordpress.com/2014/03/24/keep-calm-and-study-snipes-part-2/. It provides a step by step detailed description of all the pertinent features, drawing on the study done by Paul Leader and Geoff Garey. A worthwhile read.
I will not go through what Dave wrote so well in his blog but to discuss the snipe that wintered at the Muslim Cemetery this February.
From this photo we can tell that it is not a Common Snipe. It is paler and buffy in appearance unlike the brighter and richer plumage of the Common. The pattern of the wing coverts is strongly barred dark and buff. ( Reference from Dave Bakewell’s Blog). But it is not possible to tell if it is a Pin-tailed or Swinhoe’s Snipe from looking at the features here.
The Common Snipe has whitish unbarred underwing coverts. The underwing covert of this snipe is heavily barred, a feature shared by both the Pintail and Swinhoe’s. Again we cannot identified it as a Pintail or Swinhoe’s.
The same snipe was captured preening with the tail feathers spread out. The thin black and white outer tail feathers stood out against the chestnut broader central tail feathers, a diagnostic feature for the Pintail. For a Swinhoe’s the outer feathers can be narrow as well but there should be a few intermediate lighter feathers between the chestnut central feathers and the outer feathers. So we have a confirmed Pin-tailed Snipe for the Big Year tick.
This migrant season, the race is on as to who will get the definitive video or photo of a Swinhoe’s Snipe as the last record we have was in 2005 based on megala field characters of the bird. I want a Swinhoe’s Snipe. Happy sniping all!