Discussion of the first record of Common Snipe for NewfoundlandA couple of days ago I got a photo of a pale Snipe found by Bruce Mactavish. He of course was suspicious, as we all were but was not able to get the supporting evidence needed for an ID. It turned out to be the bird documented below as a Common Snipe.
Below I will discuss this record and will provide some context by comparing it to the only other record of Common Snipe in Canada. I will also discuss the identification of Common Snipe from a North American perspective and illustrate some important ways of distinguishing Common from Wilson's Snipe.
|First record of Common Snipe for Newfoundland, February ,2011. Many more photos |
and comparison with Wilson's Snipe below
Common Snipe is a major rarity in North America. It's currently listed as an ABA code 4 species but is essentially unknown from the vast majority of the continent. It is recorded regularly from the islands off Alaska and perhaps the mainland as well and may even breed there in small numbers. Aside from that, I think there is maybe a record for California, one from British Columbia and that's it. There is an old record from Labrador during the massive Northern Lapwing invasion of 1927, when Jack Snipe was also collected from the same location!.This bird represents the first modern day record for eastern North America and is perhaps the first record away from the Pacific Coast.
In the paper at the link above the authors note that Canada's first Common Snipe (Labrador, winter 1927) was taken by a native women who also amazingly shot a Jack Snipe the same day. The authors speculate about the chances of that happening and wonder if it could ever happen again. Interestingly, it did happen again 84 years later and this time on the island of Newfoundland. A Jack Snipe was discovered in the same small town as the Common Snipe referenced in this article. Unfortunately, it was seen by just a single observer and disappeared, but they did many to capture this photo!
These two occurrences of Common Snipe and Jack Snipe happening together bear a number of similarities. The winter of 1927 saw a monumental cold weather movement of birds in the UK. This phenomenon occurs when the UK experiences longer than normal spells of extremely cold, snowy and icy weather. During this time its common for birds to flee the colder areas of the UK for more southern, coastal areas which are unaffected, or less affected by the wintry conditions. The winter of 1920 turned out to be a perfect storm because the cold weather movement of birds in the UK perfectly coincided with unseasonable mild weather in Newfoundland and Labrador and moreover there was a tremendous weather system in places that carried birds that overshot the southern UK during their movements all the way across the Atlantic to the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador. During this event there were 100's if not thousands of Northern Lapwings seen in eastern Newfoundland. So many birds were involved it was noted at the time that many Newfoundlanders were eating Lapwings for Christmas dinner!
|Note the flow of air directly across the Atlantic from the UK to Newfoundland and Labrador|
While an event on the scale of the 1927 Lapwing invasion likely could never happen again, mainly due to large decreases in the numbers of that an other species since that time, it's evident that European waders can and do get displaced to Eastern North America, during these 'cold weather movements. One can only imagine the European species that went undetected during the great 1027 event! The February 2011 Common Snipe record should not be terribly surprising to anyone who has followed my blog, or Newfoundland birding news. There was a huge cold weather movement of birds in the UK in the late fall and early winter of 2011. This brought us (Newfoundland) about a dozen Northern Lapwings, Common Chaffinch, unusual numbers of Common Teal (about 3X average) and more Common Gulls than usual. Not too mention 3 Redwings!!All of the afore mentioned birds were moving in big numbers out of Britain to points further south at that time and it looks like some decided to fly a little further east. So while the numbers were not on the scale of the 1927 event, the list of European species involved was quite impressive.
Description and Identification
So, now that we've given the record a little context, lets move on to the identification. Correctly identifying a Common Snipe in North America is no easy task. It was extremely helpful that this time bird was in a perfect area to be photographed. It was feeding in a wet area on the side of the road in a small community, together with a Wilson's Snipe. This was very fortuitous, since it allowed for directed side by side comparisons between the two species. Another helpful feature of ( at least these particular Snipe)Snipe is they like to preen and they like to stretch their wings. Over 3.5 hours of observing both the Common and Wilson's Snipe, they both did some preening and stretching, which allowed me to capture critical field marks.
At the time separation of these two Snipe species was still in its infancy and maybe there is more to be learned. However, the Europeans have the jump on us, and have developed a list of useful features for separating the two. The following is my account of what I saw, my impressions and my reasoning for claiming this bird as a Common Snipe. All photographs were taken by me unless stated otherwise.
(Direct Comparison with Wilson's Snipe)Compared to the Wilson's Snipe with which it was associating, the Common was much paler, overall, seemingly lacking the contrasting appearance shown by Wilson's. When seeing the two together or even the Common on it's own, it appears strikingly buff, especially on the breast and on the upper portion of the flanks. When compared directly with the Wilson's Snipe the Common appeared to be much more patterned overall, with more rufous internal markings in most feather groups but particularly the scapulars and tertials. Other general features noted were an apparently longer bill and tail. Both of these features were actually quite noticeable at times. As well, the lines across the back and the edges of the scapulars were very thick and chunky, and much buffier than I'm used to seeing in Wilson's Snipe, and were obviously different that the one Wilson's Snipe present in the area. Crucial field marks noted and photographed, included the following.
|Wilson's Snipe left and Common Snipe Right|
Note the pale overall appearance of the Common Snipe, in life it appeared much buffier on the breast and upper flanks. Also note longer bill, broader and more bull lines on the back, longer bill etc
|Common Snipe Top, Wilson's Snipe bottom left and Common Snipe bottom right.|
Tors Cove, February, 2011
Axillars and Under wing Coverts
The axillars were mostly white, with relatively thin white bars, that seemed almost, broken or washed out. In comparison to axillars of Wilson's Snipe, which always has at least as much black as white in the axillars and looks very dark. The median and greater under wing coverts appeared to be mostly white, which seems to be impossible for Wilson's Snipe based on current knowledge, which always shows extensive black barring in these areas creating a much darker under wing. The differences in the under wing can create different impression of the bird in quick flight views, since Common Snipe can appear very white in the under wings while Wilson's appear darkish or dusky.
|Common Snipe left; Wilson's Snipe centre and Common Snipe right.|
Tors Cove, Newfoundland, February 2011
In this instance the secondary tips of both birds were easily compared when the birds stretched their wings side by side. The white tips were barely visible on the secondaries of the Wilson's, while they appeared thick and very obvious on the Common, creating the impression of a thick white line. This can also be an important clue in flight identification (couple with under wing colouration), since the white edge created by the secondary tips should be noticeable in Common Snipe, while not really at all in Wilson's Snipe.
Tertials and Scapulars
In general Common Snipe are a brighter and paler bird than a Wilson's Snipe and this fact is especially highlighted by the tertials. In Common Snipe the tertials tend to show almost as much rufous coloration as black. This is contrast to Wilson's Snipe, which shows predominantly dark tertials, with think pale bars, that are buff to rufous. Also note the portions of the scapulars shown have much thicker rufous internal markings in comparison to Wilson's as well.
|Common Snipe left and Wilson'r Snipe right. Note the differences % of rufous and black in bth the tertials and scapulars for both individuals.|
Excellent tail shots were obtained by Paul Linegar, showing the spread tail.It shows very well the characteristic outer tail feather pattern of Common Snipe, being much less barred than Wilson's. The COSN had only a singe bar on the outer portion of the tail feather, then a thick white bar followed by a long thick black area. Wilson's Snipe typically has a completely barred out tail feather. As well, you can see that the tips of the tail feathers are rather rounded, which should be diagnostic for Common Snipe.It's somewhat difficult to count the tail feathers, but based on the spread tail shot I count 12. There should be a couple more tucked away, unseen. Wilson's Snipe almost always have 16 tail feathers, while Common usually have 14, but may occasionally have 16 or 18.
|Note the pattern on the outer tail feathers with limited barring. Also note the rounded shape.|
Photo: Paul Linegar
|Note the much more extensive barring on the outer tail feathers of this Wilson's Snipe, as well as more pointy |
tips to the tail feathers
I am updating this in July, 2018. Since the original 2011 bird there have also been records of Common Snipe in both 2014 and 2015. It seems possible that Common Snipe may be an annual vagrant to eastern Newfoundland in winter. It would also seem possible that Common Snipe may be a stealth vagrant to other parts of Eastern Canada and the NE US as well. Hopefully, this article will help those who are seeking to find Common Snipe in North America and conversely, it should also be of some use to European birders, seeking to find Wilson's Snipe in Europe.
|Common Snipe, Tors Cove Newfoundland, February, 2011|
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