Snares Island Snipe & Rats in General and how to deal with a challenge.

Snares Island Snipe and rats in general

Every year for the past 30 or so I have spent at least a couple of weeks on a Hebridean Island.  One, in particular, became the place I went to most, getting to know a place is important with our interest, knowing were things are when the wind is blowing in any direction.

This year while talking to an ornithologist who has visited and worked on the island longer than I have, gave me the disturbing news that the population of Chough seemed to be diminishing.  He felt there were a couple of reasons, one was that the grass on the fields has been left to grow higher to help the Corncrake, but lessen feeding opportunities for the Chough, and the increase in the number of rats on the island.

Rats seem to be in the news more these days. For example the RSPB have gained permission to de-rat the Shiant Islands.  House island being the stronghold.  This is of particular interest as when I stayed there in the "naughties", the Black Rat (Rattus rattus), was a protected species as the Shiants were one of the last places in the UK where they could be found. It maintained its' population by feeding on the nesting birds, mainly on Rough Island. Birds such as the Puffin, Razorbill, etc. When the birds left there was limited food and the rat population died away, leaving everything, so we were told in balance.  Presumably things have changed, so no more little black rodent with pink ears trying to get in my tent anymore!

My experience with the Black rats on the Shiants was brought to mind when reading an article in the New Zealand Geographic magazine about the rescue of the Snares Island Snipe.  Snares Island, like many of those small sub-antarctic islands suffer from rats whose ancestors swam ashore from passing ships or shipwrecks in the 19th century.

This privately funded expedition set about catching the Snipe with butterfly nets in the tangled tree daisy woodland, trying to avoid the resting sea lions.  Once caught they were to be transported to some rat free islands of the shore of Stewart Island, namely Whenua Hou and Codfish Island.

They aimed for 10 but managed to trap 20 of these blue eyed, long beaked little birds.  They now faced the problem of transporting them, and in particular, feeding them with enough invertebrate food on the journey.  Meal worms had been sourced from a lady that had bred and fed 2000 of them on banana skins and were now in her fridge.

The islands they were being transported to were four times the size of Snares Island. The report states that the release went well and the population is on the increase, so well done New Zealanders.

Throughout the article no mention was made of any sound identification at all.  So if anybody out there knows of a recording of Snares Island Snipe I would love to hear it.  It's a shame the expedition didn't have a sound recordist handy.  I have a bit of experience with butterfly netting so am up for the next expedition.

RB 14/07/17

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