2012-12-14 Poway Snipe Hunt

Wilson's Snipe
Wilson’s Snipe on Poway Creek, above the Carriage Road footbridge. Poway California. San Diego County.

About a mile east of my house, along Poway Creek there is a hotspot for birds in winter. As a flood control measure, the City of Poway mows the creek bottom late in the fall. Cattails, bulrushes, willow, mulefat and other plants will reach 10-12 feet high after one year of unfettered growth. It is a great place for small birds, but you can’t see them. By cutting time, all the birds have finished nesting. The creek-bottom channels holding water, open to the light of day and give waterfowl and waders fresh openings in which to forage.

I discovered the location when I was heading home from my regular breakfast haunts and making stops to visit White-Tailed Kites at the nearby grasslands. I watched one kite fly towards the creek and I followed to try to re-find it. I did not locate the kite, but the creek had recently been mowed and I found ducks, egrets and passerines galore. As I was observing these obvious birds I noticed a snipe (now called Wilson’s Snipe), then another and another. I was hooked.

Since my discovery I’ve been making regular stops here to check on my visitors. Some years are better than others. I believe the timing of the rains, whether the mowers are early or late, or what the other area resources are providing, all influence the attractiveness this place holds for the snipe. I’ll visit here dozens of times a season. I once counted 14 snipe in a hundred yard section of the creek, but some years I might find them but a few times the whole season.

On days following a rain, the creek will play host to tons of dabbling ducks, though mostly Mallards. There might be Gadwall or any of three kinds of teal here. I don’t get too excited about these, but when Hooded Mergansers make an appearance, it gets my attention. I once saw ten of them foraging in the creek here. White-Faced Ibis have been seen here. The list of ‘usual suspects’ is long, and includes raptors, warblers, spice finches, various flycatchers, woodpeckers, Killdeer, and pipits.

Wilson’s Snipe and Nuttall’s Woodpeckers were the only birds I photographed on this expedition.

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