The snipe landed and moved on. Delighted with their visit, I marvelled at the tiny migrants and their mysterious movements. I could hardly have foreseen that the torrent of waders was just a fore-runner of the main invasion.
Walking the dogs on the edge of darkness this evening, we flushed seventy snipe from a five acre field. As the light began to fail, I struggled to distinguish the birds we had put up from others which were simply flighting to and from their feeding grounds. For a few extraordinary seconds, I could see twelve snipe flying in a tight group together against a dank, fiendishly cold sunset. The collective noun for snipe is a “whisp”, but the birds are usually far more likely to flush on their own. When they first arrive, it can be possible to see two or three flush from a single point, but the biggest whisp I had ever seen before this evening was five.
Fresh snipe seemed to be rising up and passing overhead with every step I took, and I was staggered to find the cold air fizzing with wings and sharp, grating cries. I don’t want to labour the point, but the arrival of these winter migrants has been utterly staggering.
We have lived in this house for just a little over six months. Every changing aspect of the seasons has brought us something new and enthralling, from cuckoo chicks and otters to curlews and kingfishers. Perhaps this is an unusually prosperous year for migrant snipe, but I can’t help thinking that we have found a really special place to live.