131. THE JACK-SNIPE.
Limnocryptes gallinula (LINNAEUS).
Tip of the first secondary quill extending beyond the tips of the primary coverts by about one-quarter of an inch.
Basal half of the outer web of the first , primary whitish.
Outer secondaries with the tips of both webs obliquely cut to a sharp point.
Tail-feathers of the ordinary kind, though rather narrow and pointed; the middle pair one-quarter of an inch longer than the next pair.
No longitudinal pale band on the crown.
Axillaries white, slightly mottled with brown, never barred.
VERNACULAR NAMES :—It is very doubtful whether any native names apply specially to this Snipe.
THE Jack-Snipe is found over the whole peninsula of India, from the Himalayas to the extreme south, and also in Ceylon. It has hot yet been obtained in the Andamans and Nicobars, and probably does not occur in those islands. To the east, it ranges from Assam down to Pegu and to the latitude of Moulmein, but I cannot discover that it has ever been shot in the Shan States.
The Jack-Snipe is a winter visitor to the Indian Empire, arriving in some parts as early as the end of August, and it does not leave certain suitable localities till April.
This Snipe, in summer, is found in Northern Europe and Asia up to, and within, the Arctic circle, from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans. In winter, it migrates to the British Isles, Central and Southern Europe, Northern Africa, Palestine, Persia, India, Burma, and China.
Jack-Snipes are irregularly distributed over the Empire, and nowhere do they occur in such large numbers as the Common and Pin-tail Snipes, except very late in the season, when, as recorded by Messrs. Hume and Marshall, they sometimes out-number the other Snipes in Upper India.
The Jack-Snipe in winter is, on the whole, a solitary creature, and it is seldom that any considerable number of these birds will be shot in the course of one day's shooting. In Upper Burma, where the Jack is fairly common, six may occasionally be bagged in one day.
This Snipe is fond of quiet spots and corners, where some concealment is afforded by bushes and grass. Although, like other Snipes, this bird habitually feeds at night, it also feeds a good deal in the morning and evening. Its bill is very sensitive, and no doubt its chief food is worms, and consequently it is found on ground which is moist and soft. It lies very close and frequently refuses to rise. Its flight is feebler than that of the Common Snipe, but it is of the same zigzag nature. It flies no great distance as a rule, and is in the habit of dropping suddenly. After alighting, it squats, and is very easy to mark down. It seldom utters a note.
I shall now quote Mr. Booth, who, in his "Rough Notes" has some interesting remarks on the Jack-Snipe. He says :— " During the long protracted and bitter frost of that terrible winter , I was handed over to a keeper in my father's service to be initiated into the art of shooting Jack-Snipes—' broken in,' as the old man 'termed it. As the plan he followed was decidedly effective and, to the best of my knowledge, original, it may not be out of place to devote a few lines to a description of his mode of tuition. A Jack-Snipe, my instructor truly argued, was almost' invariably missed through firing too quickly, both barrels being usually discharged before the bird is five-and-twenty yards from the muzzle of the gun. This error was expressly pointed out, and I was forced to repeat aloud 'One, two, three, four, five, six,' after the Snipe rose on the wing, before bringing the gun to the shoulder. The first lesson being duly impressed on my mind, the antiquated muzzle-loader was placed in my hands and practice next attempted. . . . It is hard on thirty years since I profited by these lessons ; but even now the well-remembered 'One, two, three,' etc., frequently rises to my lips when the inevitable Jack appears, and ill-luck invariably attends the bird that is patiently waited for.
"The Jack, unlike its larger relative the ' Whole ' Snipe, is seldom wild and unapproachable. I never met with them gathered into flocks, flying and settling in company after the manner of those birds. Ten or a dozen up to even forty or fifty may frequently be found scattered over a small space ; but on rising on wing the company break up and separate. . . .
" The difficulty of finding and putting up these strange birds is well known to all sportsmen; without a steady dog accustomed to their habits, large numbers must invariably be passed over. Jacks may frequently be detected squatting on the moist ground, the attention usually being attracted by the eye or the yellow stripes on the back. On one occasion, while cautiously making my way across a waving bog, over which my weight was causing the water to rise rapidly to a depth of three or four inches, I noticed three floated off the short herbage and rushes on which they were squatted and swept down to my feet by the force of the current before they attempted to take wing, one of the birds being carried by the rush of the water a distance of three or four yards. The poor little fellow made no attempt to swim, the legs being kept perfectly still, and the head remaining drawn back between the shoulders, with the beak pointed forwards, in the position into which they subside when danger approaches."
Colonel' Hawker gives the following directions regarding Jack-Snipes :—" To kill jack-snipes, a pointer that will stand them is the greatest possible acquisition, as they always lie so very close that you are liable to walk past them. These little snipes are easiest killed in a light breeze, or even calm weather, as in a. gale of wind they fly more like butterflies than birds. Nothing teases a poking shot worse than jack-snipes; but to one who has the knack of pitching and firing his gun in one motion, they are, generally speaking, not much worse to shoot than other small birds, except in boisterous weather.
"The jack-snipes are the best eating of all the tribe. As with pheasants, the hen is the best for the table, the cock the prettiest bird for a present."*
Wolley's account of the nidification of the Jack-Snipe, as quoted by Hewitson, still continues the best, and in fact the only one. The eggs of this Snipe, in the British Museum Collection, fifteen in number, are all from Lapland and Finland, and most of them were taken by Wolley. He says :—" I scarcely like to tell you about the Jack-Snipe, anything I can say must be so poor an expression of my exultation at the finding of this long-wished-for egg. It was on the 17th of June, 1853, in the great marsh of Muonioniska, that I first heard the Jack-Snipe, though at the time I could not at all guess what it was; an extraordinary sound, unlike anything I had ever heard before, I could not tell from what direction it came, and it filled me with a curious surprise; my Finnish interpreter thought it was a Capercally, and at that time I could not contradict him, but soon I found that it was a small bird gliding at a wild pace at a great height over the marsh. I know not how better to describe the noise than by likening it to the cantering of a horse in the distance, over a hard, hollow road; it came in fours, with a similar cadence, and like a clear yet hollow sound. The same day we found a nest which seemed to be of a kind unknown to me. The next morning I went to Karto Uoma with a good strength of beaters. I kept them, as well as I could, in a line,—myself in the middle, my Swedish travelling companion on one side, and the Finn talker on the other. Whenever a bird was put off its eggs, the man who saw it was to pass on the word, and the whole line was to stand whilst I went to examine the eggs and take them at once, or observe the bearings of the spot for another visit, as might be necessary. We had not been many hours in the marsh, when I saw a bird get up, and I marked it down. . . . The nest was found.... A sight of the eggs as they lay untouched raised my expectations to the highest pitch. I went to the spot where I had marked the bird, put it up again, and again saw it, after a short low flight, drop suddenly into cover. Once more it rose a few feet from where it had settled. I fired; and in a minute had in my hand a true Jack-Snipe, the undoubted parent of the nest of eggs ! . . . In the course of the day and night I found three more nests, and examined the birds of each. . . .
"The nest of the 17th, and the four of the 18th June, were all alike in structure, made loosely of little pieces of grass and equisetum not at all woven together, with a few old leaves of the dwarf birch, placed in a dry sedgy or grassy spot close to more open swamp. ... It was not long after I heard it that I ascertained that the remarkable hammering noise in the air was made by the Jack-Snipe."
The eggs of the Jack-Snipe are very large for the size of the bird, more so than in the case of the other birds of this group. In colour and shape, they resemble the eggs of the Common Snipe. They measure from 1.45 to 1.65 in length and from 1 .05 to 1.13 in breadth.
In the adult bird, the forehead and the crown are black, mottled with rufous. There is no central pale band down the middle of the crown, but this latter is bounded on either side by a very distinct buff band, extending from the upper mandible to the back of the head. A shorter black band runs between the buff band and the eye. A broad black band connects the bill and the eye; below this there is a pale fulvous streak extending from the bill to the ear-coverts, and below this again another black band ends in a large black patch behind the ear-coverts. The sides of the head, where not covered by the bands above mentioned, and the whole of the sides of the neck, are dull white streaked with black. The hindneck and the upper part of the mantle are rufous grey, mottled with black and white. The middle of the back is black glossed with purple, the long feathers on the sides of the back black glossed with green, the outer webs of all the feathers rich buff, forming two broad stripes for the whole length of the body. The scapulars are black glossed with green, margined and irregularly barred with rufous buff. The lower back and the rump are black, many of the feathers with narrow white margins. The upper tail-coverts and the tail-feathers are black with broad buff margins, and some of the former have the whole outer web buff. The lesser and median upper wing-coverts are black, margined with pale rufous. The greater coverts and the primary coverts are black with whitish tips. The primaries are black with very narrow white tips, the base of the outer web of the first dull whitish. The outer secondaries are black with broad white tips, the ends of the two webs of each feather obliquely cut and forming a point. The long inner secondaries are richly marked with black and buff.
The throat is dull white, mottled with brown. The foreneck, the breast and the sides of the body are dull rufous, streaked with brown. The whole abdomen is white, and the under tail-coverts are white with brown shaft-streaks. The axillaries are white with a few brown mottlings, and the under wing-coverts are white, very irregularly barred with brown.
Length about 8 1/2 ; wing 4 1/4; tail 2; bill 1 1/2. The bill is horn-colour, becoming black towards the tip; the irides are brown ; the legs and toes are pale olive-green. Weight up to 3 1/4 oz., according to Mr. Booth; but the heaviest bird recorded by Messrs. Hume and Marshall only weighed 2 1/2 oz. The tail is composed of twelve ordinary soft feathers, which, however, are rather narrow and pointed.
* I do not know how Colonel Hawker dis¬tinguished the cock from the hen of this species. The plumage of the two sexes is quite the same.