Notes on the Mae Faek Swinhoe’s Snipe (2021)

Since my first sighting of a Swinhoe’s Snipe (Gallinago megala) at Mae Faek in 2004, it has become my annual challenge to find more, particularly during the autumn migration. So far, I have recorded 3 Swinhoe’s Snipes, all within Mae Faek area. This year, I was very happy to find one bird on 25 September 2021. It was present at the same spot for the following few days then disappeared. I thought it had continued its journey southward, but surprisingly, it reappeared on 2 October and erratically showed up until 7 October 2021. Most of the time, it appeared in early morning between 7.00-7.30 together with one or two Pin-tailed Snipes to feed on earthworms that emerged with the morning dew, but it also occasionally appeared much later towards noon and twice in the evening. It almost always flew in from somewhere else then dropping on the large earthen bund where it liked to come and feed.

The area where the Swinhoe’s Snipe was often seen
My first view of the Swinhoe’s Snipe while it was resting in the late morning (25 September 2021)
Note the flat forehead and steep hind crown (25 September 2021)
It was constantly disturbed by a juvenile Greater Coucal that was feeding in the same area and the outer tail feathers were revealed in the defensive posture (25 September 2021).
Here it is with the juvenile Greater Coucal in the foreground (25 September 2021).
It was accompanied by another Pin-tailed Snipe (foreground). Note that the head shape can actually change according to the angle and posture. Here the head appears more rounded with steep forehead like in Pin-tailed Snipe (25 September 2021).

On the morning of 25 September 2021, I visited Mae Jo University to look for some snipes and other passage migrants. However, it turned out to be rather quiet, so I decided to drive back home and make a quick stop around 8.30 to check my regular spot at Mae Faek paddies. As I was driving through the field, I spotted a pair of snipes resting in the open next to the road. I didn’t think much of it and immediately thought that they were both Pin-tailed Snipes. After a while, a juvenile Greater Coucal came by and spooked one of the birds. It displayed a defensive posture in response to the coucal revealing nearly all of its tail feathers. Since the coucal was still around, the snipes decided to run and jump further away from me. I then checked the photos that showed the tail feathers and was immediately stunned to see that it actually looked more like a Swinhoe’s Snipe. I almost couldn’t believe it and had to search for more photos of the tail of both Swinhoe’s and Pin-tailed Snipe to compare with my photos. It was certainly one of my most exciting birding moments in 2021.

Since the coucal didn’t go anywhere, the Swinhoe’s Snipe later flew out and gave a single strong “chert” call. It constantly sounded different to me, as I was already quite familiar with the call of Pin-tailed Snipes after flushing many of them over the previous few weeks. To me, the call sounded slightly deeper, heavier and not as raspy as the call of Pin-tailed Snipe. I was able to make a recording of the flight call on 5 October, which can be listened here https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/375193341. It disappeared for few minutes then came back to the same spot but landed much further away. I watched it until it disappeared into the rice field around 9.00 and left the area. Another birder came and watched it between 11.00-12.00 and it wasn’t seen again on that day.

It appeared again around 7.00 on the following morning (26 September 2021). Note that it appeared slightly bulkier, probably due to the chilly weather in early morning.

After the news got out, many birders came to twitch for it, but it proved to be a rather unpredictable bird. Some spent nearly an entire day without seeing it, while some saw it right away when arriving at the spot. Since the area was quite small and the visibility was limited, I mostly let others stay at the spot and checked from their photos to see if the bird was present or not. No one saw it in the following few days and I thought that it had already gone, but it then reappeared and disappeared again and again unpredictably. Even until now, I’m still not completely certain that it has already moved on, as the few Pin-tailed Snipes still seem to be coming back to the same spot. I guess I’ll just have to keep looking.

It was seen in the afternoon twice. Here it looks rather odd with the lean head and body due to the heat. I barely recognised it but the moult and plumage wear confirmed that it was the same individual (5 October 2021).
The diagnostic outer tail feathers were often seen when the bird was stretching, sunbathing and displaying the defensive posture (5 October 2021). Note the much thicker outer tail feathers compared to those of the Pin-tailed Snipe.
I later discovered that it could be approached at close range if I lied down and crawled slowly towards it. It was a rather painful experience but totally worth it for the images (5 October 2021).
The dark crown stripes are relatively thick with nearly no brown mottling (5 October 2021).
After feeding, it often sat motionlessly for many minutes, then preened and stretched before starting to feed again (5 October 2021).
Note the flat forehead and crown peak towards the rear (7 October 2021)
It was moulting many of the wing feathers. I’m not exactly sure how to age it, but going through photos on eBird, I assume that it’s probably a first-winter bird, as the adult seems to finish moulting before the autumn migration, but I can be wrong.
Note the contrast between the new adult-type feathers on the mantle and upper scapulars with many missing feathers on the lower scapulars, tertials and wing coverts (7 October 2021).
The outer tail feathers can also be seen from the under side of the tail. Note the thicker outer pairs compared to those of Pin-tailed Snipe (7 October 2021).
A closer look at the tail feathers from below. It had 6 narrow outer tail feathers on each side which is typical for Swinhoe’s Snipe (7 October 2021).

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