24 October 2011

Great Snipe – Dhahran Hills

The days are drawing in and now there is only just enough time during the week to do a quick visit to the percolation pond after work before it gets dark, which is what I did on Saturday 22nd October. The water levels on the pond are low again as there is some heavy machinery work going on grubbing up some of the reed beds. As a result there are plenty of muddy edges for waders to feed about on and plenty of snipe were feeding around in the mud by the edge of the reeds. I spent quite a bit of time looking at them through the telescope in the hope I would find another Pin-tailed Snipe but all of them where Common Snipe. Just as I was about to leave I saw three snipe in a small area just below where I was standing that had been hidden by reeds until I moved. One immediately looked larger and darker than the other two snipe, but I have had a false alarm before with a dark looking oiled Common Snipe. This one was very different however and it soon became apparent it was a Great Snipe.

I am familiar with Great Snipe having seen them on a number of occasions in various countries including vagrants in Britain. The features I based my observations on are as follows:-
Size was larger than the nearby two Common Snipe that were feeding directly with and had a thicker looking but shorter bill. The bird appeared much bulkier and quite Woodcock like due to its ‘pot-bellied’ appearance.
The under-parts were noticeably darker than Common Snipe as the barring was very extensive and no obvious white was seen, with the exception of a paler area on the lower belly. It was basically barred from the throat to behind the legs. The legs were a darker colour than the nearby Common Snipe.
Wing coverts were heavily barred.
I did not try to flush the bird as I did not want to disturb it but luckily for me it jumped and spread its wings and tail on one occasion showing no white trailing edge to the wing but an obvious wing-bar formed by the white tips to the primary coverts. The tail had extensive white outer tail feathers which contrasted with the rufous central tail feathers.
Great Snipe breeds mainly above the tree line in the Scandinavian mountains as well as in lowland boggy areas of eastern Europe. They migrate from late August onwards to their wintering grounds in Africa.

Great Snipe is regarded as a vagrant to the eastern Province of Saudi Arabia and the only previous records I could find for the region were all from Abqaiq. One 9th - 10th May 1976, up to three 3rd - 16th September 1977, one 12th - 13th October 1977 and one 30th April 1982. These records are mentioned in Birds of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia by Bundy, Connor & Harrison 1989).

I was not able to take a photograph of the bird as the light was too poor by the time I got my camera out. If you go to this link there is a beautiful photograph of a Great Snipe, very similar to the one I saw taken by Rashed Al-Hajji in Kuwait in 2009.