The na­ture of things

Jack snipe

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country Notebook - Edited by Vic­to­ria Marston

ANY­ONE lucky enough to see a for­ag­ing jack snipe—a much rarer bird than his res­i­dent cousin, the com­mon snipe—will im­me­di­ately be en­chanted by his bounc­ing gait, as if he’s walk­ing on soft springs in­stead of the long-toed, greeny-grey legs that carry him furtively through marsh and field. Cow­poached graz­ing land is a favourite haunt of these win­ter vis­i­tors from Scan­di­navia and Rus­sia. Watch him bounce along, prob­ing the earth, pok­ing his long bill into the mud for worms and mol­luscs.

At this time of year, Jack is a lonesome thing, not given to trav­el­ling with Jill, be­ing far less so­cia­ble than the com­mon snipe. Mi­gra­tion flights are thought to be solo and oc­cur chiefly at night. By day, the plumage is so stealthy in its sym­phony of browns and creams amid the bleached tus­socks and fallen leaves and the fugi­tive na­ture of the bird so pro­nounced that both Jack and his Jill are vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to see. That is, un­til you have al­most trod­den on him or her; at such a mo­ment, Lym­nocryptes min­imus shoots out from un­der your feet, to fly low for some yards be­fore land­ing again.

As well as from de­tails of plumage, jack snipe is iden­ti­fied by be­ing about two-thirds the size of com­mon snipe. His bill is cor­re­spond­ingly shorter and, as noted, he’s gen­er­ally a silent loner while here. KBH

Il­lus­tra­tion by Bill Dono­hoe

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