I have been on the trail of Snipes for more than 2 years now. They are the most elusive birds I have come across in open areas and wetlands. The first time I saw them was in 2019 and I was able to take a couple of pictures before they vanished into the tall paddy plantations. Every time I am in their vicinity they manage to see me before I see them and fly away. I had two objectives -1) Understand how they camouflage themselves so well and why 2) Shoot their pictures when they are in flight. They fly high and fast then dive into the ground and disapper from sight. I had tried to click them multiple times and failed.
I identified a particular patch of land in my birding area where I saw them every time I went there. Mornings are the best time for birding because birds are famished and will be busy looking for food so they won’t mind human presence like they do during other times of the day. After weeks of missing out because of cloudy mornings, today the sun came out. As I was walking up and down peering at the low grassland, I suddenly came across one. I am assuming that it did not notice me in time to fly away so it froze. I also went into freeze mode and started clicking pictures. After about a minute, it sensed no danger and slowly started walking around looking for food. Miraculously, after a few minutes a couple more flew out of nowhere and landed some distance away from the first one. I kept my eyes on the first one as it was foraging and as I moved around, the other two flew and I was able to finally take pictures of them in flight.
After I returned home and checked the pictures, the reason for how and why Snipes camouflage themselves so well dawned on me. When they sense danger, they crouch on the ground and the upper part of their body blends into the surroundings. But why do they crouch? Because their underbelly is white so light would reflect from their bellies and give away their location. They fly away from the crouching position itself without exposing their underbelly which was why I was not able to spot them as they took off.
One more question remained. What are they scared of? I haven’t come across any predator birds looking for them till now. Snipes are migratory birds so in all probability they are preyed upon where they come from which could be why they have developed such an effective camouflage.
We assume that animal behavior is random but it’s not. Every aspect about animals and everything they do has some purpose for themselves and in nature. Birding is fascinating for me because there is so much to understand about birds and learn about nature through them. A jigsaw puzzle that has been nagging me has finally been solved.