Shooting For Snipe (With a Camera!)

Like many readers, I guess, we’re still under the cosh of the Beast from the East up here, with minus 14 degrees C measured on occasion, and horrendous wind chill. Though for now we’ve escaped the worst of the snow. The meadows all look like life has been sucked out of them, and our tough sheep are hanging on hoping for warmer days.

But it’s surprising just how vital our meadow habitats can be even under these conditions, particularly around their periphery, or anywhere with running water.

Our stream has iced over completely in places, which we’ve never seen before, and our ponds are frozen hard, but still there’s signs of life.

Otter spraints… and 5 toed, otter tracks in thin snow over the frozen pond… and then half an otter on our trail camera – taken at minus 4 degrees C…


Relocating the camera over our stream as it heads from our land through scrubby wet woodland… brought a very blurry picture of 2 otters – they didn’t realise they were meant to walk up and down the stream, though, and not from side to side…

Whilst in this bit of marginal land, the flamed flash of a Goldcrest’s crown caught my eye … amazing that this tiny bird can survive in such conditions, though nearby a robin was less fortunate…

But my real highlight was at last a sort of success with shooting for Snipe, and – before you throw up your hands in horror – not with a gun, but a camera.

I think they’re viewed as really challenging birds to hit with a shotgun – Indeed the word for a skilled shot, or sniper, derived from the need to be both well disguised and a good shot if you were ever going to hit one. But for goodness sake, how much better to give them a chance and frankly just as challenging to try to get a decent photo of them in flight.

I’ve had multiple efforts and up until now, usually end up with an image of just empty sky.

No matter how slowly or quietly I progress, I never see them before they explode into life, often from really close by, and fly away with their characteristic zig zag, high speed darting flight. Today I disturbed 3 different birds from about 200 hundred yards of Westerly, still just flowing, ditches overhung with mature hazel hedges.

My key for getting any image in poor light, was to use a tracking focus set up on my camera in advance, and setting the shutter speed priority for the photo, and then walking slowly along the ditch margin with the camera already up at eye level and re-focussing periodically a short distance ahead.

They still explode out of nowhere, and you still have to reflexly pan the camera round at speed, pressing the shutter button and hoping, but actually even these poor images are better than I usually manage to see with the naked eye. In particular the typical 3 linear back stripes as it heads away and up over the fence…

So well worth wrapping up and getting outside and looking for, and again marvelling at the ability of these birds to survive in such constant sub zero conditions, on the fringes of  “poor” wet upland meadows.

For anyone interested in such things, my brother just sent me a link to this evocative poem by Ted Hughes on Snipe – though it’s written with a hunter’s perspective. Click below:

“Snipe”, Ted Hughes, 1983

Julian Wormald, Gelli Uchaf 


Thanks for reading, and remember I’m always happy to receive any suitable articles or photos to include as blog posts. Please send them to me…

Rachel Barber…



5 thoughts on “Shooting For Snipe (With a Camera!)

  1. Thanks Julian.
    I never realised that sniper came from the shooting of snipe. We used to get snipe in a very boggy meadow at the Botanic Garden but I haven’t seen them for a few years – but as you say, hard to see. Loved the Ted Hughes poem.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the post and the poem! I’ve just looked up the snipe to check what they look like in case I ‘m ever fortunate enough to see one! How exciting to see the otter again! Hope it warms up soon …our water pipes are frozen up! Stay warm…if you can!

    Liked by 1 person

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