The Snipe and its existence at Cabragh Wetlands

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Cabragh Wetlands

The dawn breaks over Cabragh Wetlands

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Cabragh Wetlands can seem a quiet and lonely place this time of the year.
Yet in many ways it is the best time to get as close as possible to nature without the cover of vegetation.
Soon the year will turn and nesting season begins and then we must totally respect nature’s claim on privacy and solitude.
Even though we are reaching the winter solstice and the shortest day of the year, great work is taking place in the renovation of the bird hide as we make it suitable for bird watchers, photographers etc.
Another project that is underway at the moment under the watchful eye of Kathleen Flanagan, bean a’ tí, is the recording of some of the classic songs and music from our monthly music nights at Cabragh. Of all the activities , this has probably been the most missed and the DVD, with Eamon Brennan’s classic seasonal photos from Cabragh as a cover, will make an excellent Christmas present while recalling some wonderful nights and characters.
As you walk, a sudden dart and zig-zag flight will totally surprise you as a snipe heads for safety. This is the bird we have chosen for our logo, set against the dark brown reedmace and the blue sky. The common snipe is a widespread breeding species and its numbers are augmented in winter by an influx of larger birds from the rest of Europe. They are ,of course, liable to be shot outside of Cabragh Wetlands in the shooting season but most are shot by people walking through marshland rather than in the organized fashion of grouse or pheasant.
They are difficult to kill given their flight pattern and we don’t really know whether the population is suffering through shooting.
In the winter of 1880-1881 one wildfowl dealer in Tralee and surrounding areas between the 15th of October and the end of February bought 9,264 snipe. Thankfully those days are gone. Nevertheless their national status is amber denoting medium concern.
Their nests are usually made within a grassy tussock in freshwater marshy surroundings and four eggs are laid. Like most wading birds, the eggs are pointed with dark blotches on an olive background. They are incubated by the female only for about twenty days. The chicks can fly when they are three weeks old. It is the most widely distributed and abundant wader in Ireland , occurring on wet grassland, blanket bog, raised bog and fen.It is the most dependent wader on ground wetness and a water table no deeper than 20-30 cm below ground level keeps the ground soft enough to probe.
They favour extensive areas of soft rush growing on saturated ground with open areas maintained by light grazing. All ground nesting birds are severely affected by late flooding and here again, climate change rears its head.
It is a beautiful bird and sometimes, in the evening, it rests on the stakes of the wooden bridge at the entrance to the reedbeds. It is boldly patterned with browns and buffs on the head, throat, breast, back, wings and tail.The belly and the flanks are white with dark bars on the flanks.The beak is long and straight with a dark tip. The long legs and unwebbed feet are green.
It relies on its excellent camouflage to conceal it and only flies at the last moment. Its call is a short, harsh, scraping sound.
Its aerial acrobatic courtship display which involves drumming, a noise made by the air rushing through its tail feathers, is a feature of Cabragh Wetlands. It has an average lifespan of about three years. It pecks on the surface for insects and their larvae and it probes for worms. The bill is a precise and sensitive tool and a bird can insert the whole length of the bill into soft ground and still open the tip to take the worms. If the ground freezes, they almost always seem to find some area that is still soft where perhaps a well still continues to bubble through.
In our management of the wetlands, the most important aspect of the survival of the snipe is to ensure that the substratum is soft so that they can locate their prey. The habitat must be sustainable without the need for constant intervention but here again ,climate change is the overarching environmental issue influencing conservation management.
Don’t forget our Christmas online raffle for a hamper and great spot prizes and ring 0504 43879 any morning for DVD’s.
Wear a mask, wash your hands, keep your distance.
Slán go fóill.