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Solitary Snipe (Gallinago solitaria)

Updated: Nov 12, 2023

Date: February 4th, 2023

Location: Jiudu River, Huairou, Beijing, China

On a windy winter morning, me and my family went to Jiudu River, Huairou District, for this remarkable creature: a solitary snipe, a rare sighting and the only one of its kind in all of Beijing. It took us a great effort to find it out along the river bank as this elusive bird is a master of disguise, often leaving folks without a glimpse due to its impeccable camouflage and solitary habits.

Now, first take a glance at the picture. Can you spot our star of the day, the solitary snipe? This bird is renowned for its remarkable ability to blend seamlessly into its surroundings, a skill it has honed to perfection.

The solitary snipe is a small and stocky wading bird often found in Japan, Korea, China, and northeast Iran. It belongs to the family Scolopacidae. The solitary snipe usually inhabits river banks, streams, creeks, marshes, lakes, and ponds. The solitary snipe is distributed in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, China, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Mongolia, Russia, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.It's a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to migration, as some of these birds are sedentary, meaning they don't migrate, while others take the plunge and head south to warmer regions for the winter, places like northeast Iran, Pakistan, northern India, Bangladesh, Korea, Japan, Sakhalin, and eastern China. The snipe I observed had made its journey from Northeastern China to Beijing.

Specifically, the snipe I observed flew down to Beijing from North Eastern China.

Appearance: The solitary snipe boasts a long, slightly slender bill with a rich blackish hue. Its face and belly are predominantly pale with charming speckles of grayish-brownish white. The feet are short and sport a lovely yellowish tint. The back, head, and neck are adorned with distinctive streaks and brown stripes, with a dark brown line extending from the bill's base through the eyes and beyond.

Behaviorwise, the solitary snipe is unsociable and lives solitarily, which makes them get their name. The solitary snipe forages by pushing its long bill into the mud to search for insects, worms, seeds, and plants. The solitary snipe is generally approachable; they remain still for a long period of time and can be observed from a close distance. However, if alarmed, it crouches or flies. Furthermore, it flies in a clumsy, cumbersome, and slow manner.

When you combine their behavior and appearance, it becomes clear why they're so elusive. Firstly, they have an exceptional camouflage that blends seamlessly with their rocky stream habitats, especially when they stand still amidst marsh vegetation. This allows them to vanish into the scenery, an effective strategy for evading predators. Secondly, they're not the most active birds. They can stand motionless for an hour or more in the same spot, conserving energy, and remaining inconspicuous in their natural surroundings.

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