Tuesday, 1 November 2011

How to be an abysmal bird watcher

I put up three snipe today when I was walking through the Big Field. I know they were snipe, as opposed to jack snipe - because I looked them up when I got home.

Three dumpy, streaky-brown birds (I couldn't see their beaks because they moved too quickly) jinked away from me, swearing as they went. They kept low over the tussocky margins of the pond, then lifted high into the for-once blue sky, and disappeared into the distance.

Jack snipe don't do that - apparently. They lift off at the last possible moment, just as you're about to step on them, and silently skim a short distance just above the reeds before diving for cover again. A good birdwatcher would have known that. But I'm not even one of Simon Barnes' bad birdwatchers (though I've read his book on how to be one). I'm abysmal at picking up jizz, recognising calls, identifying little brown jobs.

There are lots of other differences between snipe and jack snipe. Jack snipe are only here in the winter; they're smaller, and shorter beaked, for instance. But the point is it doesn't matter. Even if I hadn't known they were snipe they were beautiful birds, they added drama to my day,  and finding out about them later got me one step nearer to being a slightly less abysmal birdwatcher.

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