Wilson’s Snipe


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As I drove around Merritt Island in Florida, the dark clouds and increasing  rain seemed to put an end to any bird photography for the day. When  I saw a woman with a big lens pointed out into the marsh, I obeyed one of my rules of bird photography which is to always try to spot what someone else is photographing especially if they have a long lens.  I pulled over and searched hard with binoculars to find this Wilson’s Snipe.  It was well camouflaged and very nearly invisible in the marsh in the pouring rain.

The Wilson’s Snipe hides extremely well.  It is a pudgy little bird with an extremely long beak which it uses to probe in the mud for food.  It was only in 2003 that it was named Wilson’s Snipe after the American Ornithologist Alexander Wilson.  This snipe was previously thought to be a subspecies of the Common Snipe which lives in Europe not North America.  The Common Snipe (which I have never seen) has seven pairs of tail feathers and the Wilson’s Snipe has eight.  I read that and laughed because who counts the tail feathers?  Once I started reading about Alexander wilson I discovered he has quite a few birds named in his honor.  Wilson painted and published American Ornithology, a large volume of work in the early 1800’s.  Wilson’s painted illustrations of birds became the inspiration for James Audubon.  His paintings of birds are incredibly detailed and beautiful.  After looking at some of the plates of his book, I could see who counts the number of tail feathers!   I learned a lot about this bird and Alexander Wilson because I stopped in the rain to see what the woman in front of me was photographing. 

I persevered in adverse conditions and was rewarded with these images of a beautiful but difficult to find bird.  I also learned about  a famous birder and artist from the past.


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sandra calderbank
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