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Tuesday, 25 October 2011 06:54

Great Snipe in Mid Norway

This was really long break! June holiday in Norway, moving to a new place, summer spent home in Czech working on the house reconstruction and then back again to Norway at the end of September after parental leave. A lot was happening in last months but none of it had anything to do with birding and wildlife photography. The only „birding“ experience was the Kingfisher that came to our garden pond to look for some catch – it kept watching the water for 5 minutes and left after realizing there was no pray to fish...


Great Snipe (Gallinago media) male at the lek, Levanger


Now we are getting back to our everyday life in Norway and I have again time for birds and photography. I have also set up a bird feeder and photo-hide on backyard so I hope to see some interesting species in the winter. Our estate also neighbours with the water of a lake where annually numbers of birds overwinter – Whooper Swans, Goldeneyes, Mergansers to mention some of them...


Great Snipe (Gallinago media) male at the lek during the most active part, Levanger



But let start from the beginning – with our summer trip to the Great Snipe (Gallinago media), leks in Middle Norway. The most famous are those around Levanger in Trodheimsfjord. It was last season when I met a man in Dovre who proudly showed me pictures of lekking Great Snipe on the screen of his camera – those were birds from the well-known locality Rindal. Another inspiration for the trip was the cover photo of the book ”Guide til Norges fugleliv" that shows beautiful lekking male of Great Snipe taken by Kjetil Schjolberg.


The males arrives to the lek after dusk and hide into the grass where they are difficult to spot


Great Snipe (Gallinago media) is one of the four European bird species with spectacular lekking behaviour; Norwegian nature provides suitable habitat for all of these four species – in the south and in the middle Norway are numerous leks of Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) and Black Grouse (Tetrao tetrix) and mainly in northern latitudes there are famous leks of amazing Ruff (Philomachus pugnax). Because watching lekking birds is usually easier than watching of some other species (lekking takes place usually at the same place and time), you can find some agencies on the internet that offer Great Snipe watching and photography from commercial photo hides. This is an option but not something exciting for a real nature photographer. It is not only the money you spend on one night in the hide (and it is not little money!) but most of all the feeling when you need to search for the species and the time spent in unspoiled nature. Not everyone wants to have the same pictures of the same birds as tens of photographer before and after. On the other hand most of us do not have time and money to walk Scandinavian mountains and look for lekking males...to be honest neither I did it this way – the lekking site that I visited I found after thorough search through Norwegian internet websites.


16.55: photohide set up at the lek


Visit of the leks was scheduled for the beginning of June. It always depends on the previous winter but you should not make mistake as the main activity on Great Snipe leks in Norway takes place between ca. mid of May and mid of June. Equipped with maps from google.maps and GPS coordinates of chosen leks (picked according the accessibility and number of lekking males in recent years) I took off towards unknown. When you look at the satellite images of the mountain terrain around Levanger, it seems to be impassable swamp with little vegetation. The reality is that the surface really is wet and made of peat marshes but it only makes the uppermost thin layer sitting on hard rock so even the harder parts of the terrain can be managed with good hiking leather boots.


The active part begins – the males lekking in the shelter of grass


It was amazing experience to wander lonely through beautiful, pristine, cold and undisturbed Nordic nature. The wet swampy slopes with conifers rising from the valley with crystal clear river towards higher altitudes where the number of trees decreases and branches are covered with thick carpet of lichens and then the uppermost parts of the mountain plateaus where the vast stretches of swamp covered with heather are divided by myriads of small streams and red-coloured ponds. This landscape fills me with mournful but on the other hand glorious feelings, the colours around are more of grey-green and sprinkled with a little of yellow made up by last seasons grass. The impressions are multiplied by the summer late night sun and the solitude – there is nobody around, nor even a path that would suggest some man-presence, just clear wilderness...


Birds are relly well camouflaged in the undergrowth


Great Snipe (Gallinago media) is most active during night so if you want to watch lekking Snipes you need to get to the spot before sunset. Well, this is rather confusing term in Norway in mid summer – there is no real night here at that time – you are always able to see, only around 1 o’clock in the morning the grey dark arrives as the sun falls below the horizon but it rises again just a little further at around 4 o’clock in the morning or sooner. This description of the mountains might seem inhospitable but opposite is true – on the way up to the mountains towards the Great Snipe leks I’m being accompanied by excited calls of Cuckoos that sit on nearby trees; from time to time a roding male Woodcock flies above my head; in higher altitudes whistling Golden Plovers make me nice companions with distant echoes of singing Redwings. This area is also visited by Brown Bears but encounter with one of these animals would be more than a miracle...


Male shows off...


After first reconnaissance of the terrain I realize that my plan to visit several leks was foolish idea and decide to explore just one of them – it s well within walking distance from a car (some 45 minutes) and the literature says it hosts about 10 males every season. The way up to the lek is quite straightforward with GPS and the last 200 meters I crawl and listen every few meters in effort to catch the call of lekking Great Snipe males. My great expectations dissolve within the very last few meters – there are no birds there although I had a feeling I heard distant call of some male. It is around midnight and the darkness deepens. Sweaty and bedraggled I sit down to the wet heather and let myself being soaked with that strange cold atmosphere of the arctic summer night. I carefully listen and watch around with my binoculars. Wind blows strongly, which makes my chances to catch a call of birds even smaller – during calm nights the call can be heard up to 300 meters distance! Strange sounds behind my neck – maybe Fox or Lynx that visit lekking sites because of the easy prey they can hunt down... I watch carefully for some time when familiar sound reaches my ears – that must be it! Looking in the direction of the sound I see nothing but a row of birches in a distance. I take off while crawling on the ground – this is the chance I cannot miss! The sound is rather unclear and I fear that I scared the birds off...


First encounter with the rival...


It might be a good half-hour of crawling and careful listening before I reach the high point where I expect the birds might be hidden...and nothing again! Am I dreaming? But the sound seems to be stronger now, I watch around and try to locate the source – some 200 meters from me I can recognize moving silhouettes of erected bird – Great Snipe! The lek is some 400 meters from the original site. Binoculars give a sight of at least two other males on the lek. After a while enjoying the find of the lek I turn right and try to get silently and hidden to the lek from behind. But the lek is not a single mound that all the males fight for – it can stretch over several hundreds of meters and thus getting to the lek unnoticed is practically impossible. While scaring off a few males I take just a few record shots and retreat back from the lek to give the birds peace. The next day I must come long before sunset. It is around 2 a.m. and Im heading back to our cabin at the sea coast.


And the winner takes his position at the mound...


The next day I leave the cabin already at 15.00 to be on the lek on time. The way up to the lek is exhausting – it is beautiful sunny day and I’m walking with heavy photo bag, sturdy tripod, photo-hide and sleeping bag. At 5 p.m. I’m on the spot with hide set up close to a bush where I saw the birds last night. I get into the tent and wait – it takes almost 4 hours before the first male appears in the grass nearby; at 9 p.m. I take the first pictures of a male safely hidden in the grass. The visible lekking starts about half an hour later but other males join after another ca. 2 hours of waiting. At 11.30 p.m. the first male takes position on the grass mound which signifies the beginning of the most active part of the lekking. This lasts for ca. 3 hours and slowly fades away at ca. 4 a.m. During the highest activity there is about 15 males on the lek – they perform their ritual fight and displays while singing their typical lekking call. All the time I’m pressing the shutter release and there is still enough light for photography – even during the darkest part of the night I do not go over ISO 4000 setting! After the first night in the centre of the lek I leave the photo-hide at ca. 4 a.m., there is peace around again, the birds are left. I leave the hide in the lek till the evening – it is better to let the birds get used on it...


The following encounter took place 5 minutes before 23.00

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After the night being awake I sleep most of the next day and come back to the lek at ca. 7 p.m. It is cloudy and soon I find out that I’m being late! While the previous sunny day the birds arrived to the lek as late as 8 p.m., the other day they must have already been there before 7 p.m.




Obviously the birds behaviour is not driven by the time but the light. I quickly get into the hide while raising a few birds from the lek and wait until they come back. Fortunately the birds are not very shy and appear soon at their positions and I can again enjoy the whole night in the middle of Great Snipe lek. This time I took also 300mm lens to get some video footage – it is my first try so be patient with me. Video is good especially for species as Great Snipe – pictures can hardly capture the complexity of the lekking display and the spectacular sound of the birds.



All the pictures are lightened in software as there was rather dark on the scene – better sense of the light can be seen in the video footage. Also the white balance of the pictures was very difficult to set as the pictures were taken during night and after lightening they appear a bit unnatural. Some of the pictures were post processed several times...



Leaving the hide shortly after 4.00




Last Updated on Friday, 04 November 2011 08:17
Comments (141)
  • Jirka

    Dobrý článek, k tomu supr fotky a to video taky nemá chybu.

  • Jirka Slama

    Diky moc Jirko!

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  • Lukáš

    Paráda, moc pěkný fotky, to video nemá chybu. Lukáš

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    Taky moc dekuju, jsem rad, ze se libi, byl to neuveritelny zazitek!

  • Honza Veber  - Nádhera

    Jirko, smekám!! ještě bych poprosil o fotečku domu u jezera, at mne raní mrtvice spokojeného ;-)! Musí tam být nádherně!
    Krásný podzimvšem u Slámů v Norsku ;-)

  • Jirka

    Moc díky Honzo, fotka domečku se možní objeví v dalším článku ale nečekej zázraky ;-)
    Mějte také krásný podzim!

  • Zdeněk Souček

    Jirko, to je špičková práce s kvalitními fotkami a to poutavé video - asi to nikdy v přírodě neuvidím.

  • Jirka

    Ano Zdeňku, snad můj nejlepší zážitek, třeba to někdy můžeme zopakovat když bude čas ;-)

  • Tomáš Hilger

    [bParáda.[/b] Moc hezké snímky a supr článek. Závidím

  • Jirka

    Diky Tome, kazdy foti to, co je kolem, napriklad na vlhu tu nenarazim :-)
    Jinak jsem s temi bekasinami samozrejme nadmiru spokojen!

  • tomáš

    No tak já jsem si pro ni jel do Delty ;)

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    Koukám jako blázen! Tak to se Ti povedlo Jirko moc!

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