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.
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.
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.