The first time we ever observed an Australian Painted Snipe was on Grant’s birthday in 2011 near Broome and since then we have had numerous other encounters, but this year for the first time we have seen them both nesting and with young. After a very good Wet Season with substantially more rain than normal over the first few months of 2017 the land was flooded and a huge variety of birds arrived in the Broome area to take advantage of the ideal conditions for breeding. Magpie Geese were breeding close to the main highway south of Broome and so were the Whiskered Terns, White-winged Black Terns, Purple Swamphens, Comb-crested Jacanas, Wandering Whistling Ducks and Plumed Whistling Ducks. When the land is flooded the only way to get around is on foot and due to the mud and deep water the ideal footwear is dive boots, which we use to walk on the local reef systems along the coast. Our recent bush-walking has involved some long muddy walks and are always productive as far as birds and wildflowers go and we have found several species nests. We never plan to disturb nesting birds, but the problem with many species that nest on the ground is that they are so well camouflaged that you don’t see them until it is too late. This was the exact scenario when we accidentally flushed a pair of Australian Painted Snipe recently. This was the second pair of Australian Painted Snipe that we had known to have nested this year near Broome and they are a species easily encountered around Broome at the moment if you know where to look.
The Australian Painted Snipe flushed in front of us and then we had to move slowly forward to make sure there was nothing below our feet. When you don’t know for sure that you have flushed birds from a nest or just from where they were feeding it is a matter of looking very carefully as you proceed. The nest was quite well hidden and we actually noticed that somebody else had walked in the area and left footprints in the mud, but had not realised there was a nest there. The Australian Painted Snipe nest was positioned on higher ground in between the fence and the highway. There had been a grader along the fence-line many years ago leaving a lower area that was very flooded and the raised dirt it had left behind was the perfect location for a pair of nesting Australian Painted Snipe.
Australian Painted Snipe nest with four eggs
Australian Painted Snipe nest
I took some photographs quickly and we moved off to let the Australian Painted Snipe return to the nest. Our next encounter of Australian Painted Snipe was a male bird with four very tiny chicks and they were only a day or two old. There was no way we were getting anywhere close to them for photographs, but I can tell you they are the cutest chicks! Each chick had identical colouring with black stripes down its back and a chestnut stripe through the middle. They obediently kept close to the male Australian Painted Snipe as it led them away from us into the denser vegetation. It was only the slight movement in the vegetation that alerted me to their presence as they moved away from us in the first instance.
Four eggs in the Australian Painted Snipe nest
Our most recent encounter of an Australian Painted Snipe family was four birds that we accidentally flushed from under the shade of a bush near an ephemeral lake. They all flew into the lake to hide against the base of a tree. A female bird and two male birds stayed together at the base of a tree and the fourth bird flew to a nearby tree. The Australian Painted Snipe were quite well hidden if you didn’t know where to look and we moved away to watch from a distance. Two Australian Painted Snipe were on the right and one on the left of the base of the tree with their bills facing the water.
Three Australian Painted Snipe at the base of the tree
Two birds on the right and one on the left-note the bills!
Within a few minutes the Australian Painted Snipe swam away from the base of the tree and back to the edge of the ephemeral lake to get back in the shade of the bush where they had been before. The more brightly coloured female bird remained at the back of the family group as they swam to shore.
Three swimming Australian Painted Snipe
For a bird species that very little is known about the Australian Painted Snipe is well represented around the Broome area this year and several pairs have been known to successfully raise young. Let us hope they continue to share their lives with us in the north of Australia!