The African Snipe

The telephone rings…

First, I have no idea where the phone is located. Was on the kitchenette moments ago…or was that last night? I find it under the children’s latest art, a colour drawing of an elephant and a giraffe on the Kaingo landscape.

“Andre hello…”

After the normal pleasantries, we get to the crux of the matter.

“There was this bird…Just a bit bigger than a dove, flying at dusk. It makes a sound…How can I describe…weeeeEEEEEeeeeeRATATATATA…..”

I stifle a laugh. This is important information, after all!

“Please describe it again?” I ask


By now I am in stitches. I dare not laugh. It would be rude. And inappropriate.

My mind is working overtime, file after file of bird sounds stored in the memory banks appear and is then discarded.

“I have no idea” I confess.

“Give me a few hours; I will find the culprit.”

I get out all the bird books. Robert’s Birds of Southern Africa have spectrograms that depict the most common calls recorded for each bird. I rifle through the entries. I manage to narrow the search.  Cape Clapper lark…European Nightjar…

. Go to the Internet.

There are solidarities on the calls as described. But also a niggling feeling that I may be barking up the wrong tree.

I send the message the next morning.

“I think it may be a Laeveldklappertjie (Flappet lark)” the message reads. Or a European Nightjar chasing you from its nest.”

There is still that feeling that I cannot shake.

A few days later, I get a message: It reads:” Did you hear it near some marshy ground? It sounds like an African Snipe on a display. It flies especially on moonlit nights from different directions. The eerie sound is made by the outer tail feathers ‘drumming’ as it flies past. Best regards, Warwick Tarboton.”

The penny drops. I made the mistake of assuming that the winter’s cold, dry conditions have reached Kaingo. I had not occurred to me that the late rains caused the water table to rise and that some areas may still be waterlogged. Thank heavens that we have access to great naturalists to help out now and then!

Hopefully, with South Africa’s lockdown rules being strategically relaxed, I may be able to get up to Kaingo to hear this phenomenon for myself. I will need to go and hunt it down, myself, at dusk, and hear that sound for myself. For the memory banks, you know.

Well, African Snipe, it is. To prove it, we have a recording of the sound it made. And a photograph.

Never disregard a bird sound just because you believe that author of the sound should not be there…



2020-06-23T10:15:40+00:00Weekly Blog|

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