e-Birding in a Time of Plague – a letter from Poland by Marek Borkowski

A group of us were due to visit Poland earlier this Spring, to stay on the reserve that Marek
manages with his family, and to visit some of the other wild sites in this region, but then
Covid lockdown struck………. This is a copy of one of his emails, reproduced as it arrived: I
make no apologies for his literary style – any eccentricities in his use of English are far
outweighed by his obvious passion for the wildlife of his native Poland and for his sense of
fun. Roll on 2021!

Imagine there’s no lockdown
It’s easy if you try
Big marsh below us
Above us, evening sky
Imagine all the Great Snipe
Livin’ for today

Calm and silent.
Apart from buzzing millions of mosquitoes and occasional drumming Snipe the only noise (?) is a delicate and strange, hard to tell apart from water bubbling under feet when you make another step in the marsh, just hearable from maybe 2 (maybe 4 if one has a trained ear) hundred meters only, coming just from time to time distant clicking sound of ground displaying male Great Snipe – – although only almost of the size of a Pigeon, but with big (?great) guts.
To hear it at the 100 miles long and 10 miles wide marsh at the first place, then to locate the source of the sound in the fading light, to approach it very carefully not disturbing the birds despite uneven and wet ground, to spot it between sedges, then finally to watch this fascinating lekking behaviour, probably the most lively and mysterious bird spectacle our part of the world can offer – is a bit of a challenge I would love to share.
Mysterious and poorly known as the bird is uncommon, the lek locations at wet and tussocky marsh are hard to reach,
clouds of biting insects don’t help to concentrate, the drama is delivered in darkness
and coming close to the Great Snipe without disturbing it is a bit of an art.

It may seem quite quiet and a bit boring from a distance but once one is close enough…
The air is trembling with an amazing variety of sounds. Constant multiplied tractor like drone at the background.
Whistling, rattling, rumbling, rambling. Waves of crescendos and diminuendos of individual songs.
Dripping, chirping, tapping/drumming, knock-knock-knocking on the heavens door…
All repeated by several individuals.
It is normal to hear a singing bird, sometimes two together produce an interesting duo, if exceptionally three – a threatening theatre.
But here we may have three dozen tenors in concert (we just have them bigger).
Surrounded by the birds we can experience that Great Snipe lek produces probably the highest density of “singing” birds of the same species per acre in Europe.
But unlike with most bird species the sound is not the only activity to get the mate, not even the most important one, they are not just static tenors on the scene.
The marsh around is boiling and bubbling with moving Great Snipe, may look quite chaotic, but they are not.
They have probably the best developed body language amongst all our bird
species.
Vivid is the English word? Energetic? Blood, sweat and tears? Wild?
Wing flashing.
Tail outstretching.
White dazzling.
Bodybuilders competition.
Shivering and shaking
Bowing and bobbing.
Pirouetting and sarabanding.
Long and high jumping.
Running and wrestling.
Kickboxing.
Flying and finally fighting.
Decathlon tournament.
Vanity Fair with all the tricks of Saturday night wild party: muscles flexing, chest pumping, breast presenting, booty shaking.
The winner takes everything.
The essence of evolution.
If any species of bird can be called larger-than-life – it is the Great Snipe. The most energetic one.
The amount of gathered and spent energy per body weight, both: in the season and in 24 hours (over the long and the short haul), seems to be several times bigger in comparison with any other species.
The over 4 thousand(!) mile long distance in 84 hours(!) one-go(!) migration from and to Africa, the speed exceeding 100 miles per hour(!), the exceptional for the bird of this size level of migration exceeding 5000m(!) asl.
The extremely strenuous several hours a night lekking behaviour and still, flights between leks exceeding 150 miles(!).
And it goes hour after hour(!) through the night, night after night for 3 months(!). Don’t want to bore you with too much information, will be happy to deliver it when some time we can watch the real thing, it is just to prove we are
talking about a master bird.
To watch/listen/feel it is certainly not an every evening experience. Apart from the Great Snipe lek exceptionality,
how much of it is a lack of sleep, being covered by myriads of mossies in the middle of nowhere around midnight,
wandering through the marsh in darkness in a time usually spent in bed or bar?
Although, around summer solstice there is never a proper darkness here, towards the North there is just red sky at night.

Birders delight. Spring is over.

Summertime and the livin’ is easy
Cocks are jumpin’ but the sedges are high
Oh, bird life’s rich and Great Snipe is good lookin’
So rush, dear birder, don’t you cry
One of these evenings
They’re gonna rise up singin’
Yes, they’ll spread their wings
And they’ll jump to the sky
Mm, but at this evening
There is nothin’ can harm you
Yes, with the Common and the Great Snipe lekking by
Imagine there’s no lock down
It isn’t hard to do
You can be just beside me
And we can share the view…
Imagine all the Great Snipe
Livin’ for today
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the birding will be done…

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