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Eyes on Nature

Latham’s Snipe survey results are in!

25 Mar 2021

While we’re grounded and thinking of the nice overseas destinations we have been to, or would like to visit when we are allowed to go again, international avian travellers have continued their journeys between the northern and the southern hemispheres.

Every year, the Park welcomes an international traveller from Japan and south-east Siberia to our wetlands. This traveller is the Latham’s Snipe (Gallinago hardwickii), also known as Japanese Snipe, one of 37 migratory shorebird species that occur in Australia, protected under commonwealth legislation and international treaties. Leaving their northern hemisphere homes at the end of the breeding season, the snipes travel through many countries on the East-Asian Australasian Flyway to arrive in eastern Australia in August, where they take advantage of the warm and productive season before returning to their breeding grounds in February/March.

Some of these birds exhibit incredible stamina. In 2016, a snipe tagged with a tracking device was recorded flying non-stop over three days from Japan to Australia, covering 7,000km over the Pacific Ocean, at an average speed of just over 95 kilometres per hour – an incredible feat for a bird weighing only 150-200g!

While they are in the Park, this shy, secretive bird makes use of the many freshwater and brackish wetlands we manage, preferring ponds and lagoons with dense ground vegetation that provide cover. Annual surveys of their abundance and distribution that began in 2004 have shown a positive trend in recent years. A maximum of 22 snipes was recorded in the 2020-21 season, making this the third year where snipe numbers have exceeded the long-term (10-year) average of 13 birds. Numbers at Narawang Wetland, a stronghold for this species, has exceeded the commonwealth threshold for Nationally Important Sites of 18 birds for two of the past 3 years. There was a surge during the 2019-20 black summer bushfires, when we recorded the highest ever number of snipes in the Park (30 birds) as they took refuge in reliable wetland sites across NSW.

While it’s great news that we have successfully managed our wetlands to provide valuable habitat for a protected species, particularly during catastrophic conditions, surveys of core breeding sites in Japan conducted by the Wild Bird Society of Japan in May 2020 found a decline of over 40% compared to 2018. This was attributed to droughts and bushfires in Australia, compounding the loss of habitat from development. For our well-travelled feathered friends, the world has no borders, and their tremendous range makes them vulnerable to threats and dangers over vast areas. Their continued existence depends on our commitment and actions to protect them. Stay up to date via the Latham’s Snipe Project and birding organisations in your area.

We thank the dozen of dedicated volunteers who made the 2020-21 Latham’s Snipe surveys possible. © Jen O’Meara

The Northern Water Feature is adjacent to a busy road and the stadia precinct, and it’s used by Latham’s Snipe! © Bob Peters

The Latham’s Snipe uses its long bill to feed on plant material and invertebrates © Geoff Hutchison