Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Absolutely Jack Snipe

I can't remember why I was thinking about it, but I was reminiscing the other day about lunchtimes at CEGB Reservoir (or Fletton Brick Pit), back in the days when I lived in Peterborough.

It was a mad dash across the city to Fletton. Park on the grass verge, waterproof trousers on, wellies on, leg it across the road without getting mown down by a speeding motorist, and meet the others (MJW, SPD, BHS) at the top. Then we descended into the grey sludge of the former brick pit to begin our work.

Walking through the clay was something of an experience. You had to be careful not to stand in one place for too long, or you were in danger of losing your wellies.

We squelched carefully through the fringe of reeds at the water's edge, watching what flew up and where it went down.

'Snipe. Snipe. Snipe.'
'Jack!'

That way we did our best to ensure we didn't count birds twice. On 8 January 2003, we counted a total of 27 Jack Snipe - more Jacks than Snipe that day!; the total was only one less on 13 December 2002.

The way the two species flee from perceived danger is different: Jack Snipe fly off in a straight line and drop down again after only a short distance. Snipe take off like a wayward firework, zigzagging away and up into the sky, before wheeling round and going back down. A Woodcock we flushed one day was quite startling, with a whirr of fat brown wings.

Another December day, we came across a pair of Bearded Tits feeding happily in the Phragmites. To see them at head-height, barely a few metres away, on a grotty clay pit on the outskirts of Peterborough, was something I'll remember for a long time.

I think they're going to turn it into a boating lake now.