Wilson’s Snipe are odd birds. They do exist, despite pranks where the naïve are sent off on fruitless “snipe hunts.” Snipe are part of the sandpiper family of birds but they are generally found in marshes, bogs, and even farm fields.
Millbrook Marsh lies just east of State College and hosts good numbers of snipe during migration, especially in early spring. Each year, emails would go out on the local bird listserv about the snipe but often were unclear about where in the marsh they were seen. My many “snipe hunts” had turned up nothing and I was determined to find one this last spring in Pennsylvania.
I had learned late the previous fall that two students in the geology department, Clay and Kris, had just gotten really into birding, even driving four or more hours to New Jersey and Delaware for general birding or to chase a reported Roseate Spoonbill. I’d meant to go birding with them for a while, but schedules didn’t work out. On the 19th, a lot of students were out celebrating our friend Dan’s successful Ph.D. defense and Mel and I ended up talking with Clay and Kris for a while. They mentioned their plans to go look for snipe at Millbrook the following day, and the trip was set!
The four of us and another grad student and friend, Lauren, met early and began searching some of the reportedly more reliable spots in the park. For a while, we turned up nothing, though we did work on some sparrow identification. Clay flushed a bird from a tiny stream but I don’t think that anyone else saw it. Based on a previous tip from Joe, I walked up this same stream from where it enters the marsh. I got to a point where I could see everyone else and a Wilson’s Snipe walked out in front of me and then popped up in the air. No one really got a great look, but snipe are often secretive and only seen flying. Clay and Kris enjoyed their life bird and was up to 191 for my county list!