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A record of the Endangered Australian Painted Snipe Rostratula australis (Gould, 1838) in the Fortescue valley, Pilbara region

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  • Biologic Environment

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We report the occurrence of a female Australian Painted Snipe Rostratula australis on 31 Mar 2012 at Coondiner Pool, 70 km from Newman in the Pilbara region of NW Australia, an area for which there are very few previous records. We discuss the status of this poorly-known endangered species and the circumstances under which it is occasionally recorded in the Pilbara region, far from its core range in SE Australia.
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INTRODUCTION
The Australian Painted Snipe Rostratula australis was rst
described in 1838, but for more than 160 years was consid-
ered conspecic with the Greater Painted Snipe R. benghalen-
sis which is now known to be distributed through SE Asia
and Africa (Peters 1934). Only recently has the high degree
of divergence (10% difference of Mitochondrial-DNA from
the African and Asian populations) and the distinctiveness
of the Australian Painted Snipe, been recognised by genetic
analysis (Baker et al. 2007).
The Australian Painted Snipe inhabits shallow, vegetated,
temporary or infrequently lled inland wetlands of Australia
(Garnett et al. 2011). Numbers of the Australian Painted Snipe
are thought to have declined substantially since European
settlement, particularly over the last 50 years due to the loss
and alteration of wetlands (Garnett et al. 2011, Rogers et al.
2003). Environmental degradation of the extensive Murray-
Darling Basin of SE Australia is thought to be the major cause
of the decline.
Populations of the Australian Painted Snipe are thought
to have declined by >50% in three generations (during
1977–2007), with the current population estimated at only
c.1,000–1,500 mature individuals (Garnett et al. 2011). It
was listed as Vulnerable in 2000 (Garnett & Crowley 2000)
and is currently listed as Endangered in the Action Plan for
Australian Birds (Garnett et al. 2011), by the IUCN (www.
redlist.org) and in Australia’s Environmental Protection and
Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
Migration patterns of the Australian Painted Snipe are
poorly known (Pringle 1987), although the species is believed
to disperse widely as evidenced by irregular and infrequent
occurrences and breeding throughout Australia (Lowe 1963,
Marchant & Higgins 1993). Movements have been attrib-
uted to local conditions: birds move to ooded areas; from
drying to permanent wetlands; away from areas affected by
drought. Despite this, most records of the Australian Painted
Snipe across N Australia are recorded during the autumn
and winter (BirdLife Australia 2012a) which may be linked
to lower survey effort during the wet season caused by poor
vehicle accessibility or increased dispersal by snipe across
tropical wetlands during the summer months, which reduces
their detectability.
The Pilbara bioregion (178,060 km
2
) of NW Australia is
a vast biodiversity hotspot dominated by iron-ore rich arid
rocky rangelands (Thackway & Cresswell 1995). The Pilbara
has an arid-tropical climate with two distinct seasons,
a hot wet summer from October to April and a mild dry
winter from May to September (Australian Government
Bureau of Meteorology [BoM] 2012). Mean annual
rainfall is 200400 mm (BoM 2012) and is typically
associated with tropical storms and cyclones that occur
during the summer. Wetlands are highly restricted in the
Pilbara, though six nationally signicant wetlands are listed
in the region (Environment Australia 2001).
Here we describe a signicant distributional record of the
Australian Painted Snipe at Coondiner Pool in the Pilbara. We
also searched a variety of state and national fauna databases,
journals, publicly available consulting reports and commu-
nicated with a number of ornithologists to nd additional
regional records of the Australian Painted Snipe to place our
observation into context.
METHODS AND STUDY AREA
Coondiner Pool (22°43'24.86"S, 119°39'24.26"E; 421 m
a.s.l.) is a billabong (classed as a semi-permanent claypan:
Masini & Walker 1989), approximately 1.2 km long and up
to 160 m wide in the Fortescue valley. Coondiner Pool is
located in the Roy Hill pastoral station about 70 km north-
northwest of the town of Newman in the Pilbara; it lies
about 280 km from the coast (Fig. 1). Fringing vegetation
A record of the Endangered Australian Painted Snipe Rostratula australis
(Gould, 1838) in the Fortescue valley, Pilbara region
Chris G. Knuckey
1
, Colin R. Trainor
2
, Ronald S.C. Firth
2,3
,
James L. Sansom
4
& John E. Trainer
5
1
Center of Ecosystem Management, Edith Cowan University, Joondalup Western Australia 6027, Australia
c.knuckey@ecu.edu.au
2
Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University, Northern Territory 0909, Australia
3
WorleyParsons, Level 6, 171 George St, Brisbane, Queensland 4000, Australia
4
Bold Park Bird Banding Group, Bold Park, Perth, Western Australia 6014, Australia
5
ENV.Australia, Level 1, 503 Murray St, Perth, Western Australia 6000, Australia
Knuckey, C.G., Trainor, C.R., Firth, R.S.C., Sansom, J.L. & Trainer, J.E. 2013. A record of the Endangered
Australian Painted Snipe Rostratula australis (Gould, 1838) in the Fortescue valley, Pilbara region. Wader
Study Group Bull. 120(1): XX–XX.
Keywords: Australian Painted Snipe, Rostratula australis, distribution, Pilbara, Australia
We report the occurrence of a female Australian Painted Snipe Rostratula australis on 31 Mar 2012 at Coon-
diner Pool, 70 km from Newman in the Pilbara region of NW Australia, an area for which there are very few
previous records. We discuss the status of this poorly-known endangered species and the circumstances under
which it is occasionally recorded in the Pilbara region, far from its core range in SE Australia.
Wader Study Group Bulletin 120(1) 2013
of Coondiner Pool is characterised as riverine woodland
of Eucalyptus victrix, with a dense grass understorey
dominated by Eriachne benthamii (Fig. 1). Little is pub-
lished on the avifauna of Coondiner Pool, but it was regarded
as the most diverse of 31 Pilbara wetland sites surveyed by
Masini & Walker (1989). The Pool is situated south of
the biologically signicant Fortescue Marshes (96,068 ha;
BirdLife International 2012; Environment Australia 2001)
which will be included in the conservation estate in 2015
and is currently proposed as a Ramsar wetland (DEC 2009;
van Leeuwen 2004). The Fortescue Marsh oods irregularly
after major rainfall, typically associated with cyclonic events,
but usually dries within 6–9 months of ooding. The closest
weather station (Newman Aero) received 332.8 mm of rainfall
for the summer wet season Dec 2011–Apr 2012, well above
the long term average of 236.7 mm for the same period and
the mean annual rainfall of 322.0 mm (BoM 2012).
General bird observations with binoculars were conducted
at Coondiner Pool for 30–90 minutes on 28, 29 and 31 Mar,
and 9 and 13 Jul 2012.
We sought records from a 500 km radius of the Coondiner
Pool in BirdLife Australia’s Australian Painted Snipe data-
base which contains c.1,800 records of the species between
1836 and 2012 (BirdLife Australia 2012a). We also searched
through journal articles, publicly available consulting reports
for the Pilbara region and sourced records from ornithologists
and regional experts (see Acknowledgements). The majority
of these reports come from target dryland habitats rather
than wetlands. This included 69 “Level 1(typically brief
fauna habitat assessments of 1–8 eld days) and 54 “Level 2”
consulting reports (usually baseline surveys of 10–13 days
which involve bird surveys and trapping). In addition we
searched for Australian Painted Snipe records in various
government (Western Australia’s State Government Depart-
ment of Environment and Conservation’s [DEC] Naturemap
[2012a], DEC’s threatened fauna database [2012b]) and non-
government databases and reports (Atlas of Living Australia
[ALA 2012], BirdLife Australia’s Birdata [Birdata 2012],
Western Australia Bird Sightings Website [WABS 2012]).
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
A single female Australian Painted Snipe was flushed
from tall grass on four occasions at Coondiner Pool dur-
ing the morning (at about 09h00) of 31 Mar 2012. The bird
was identied as a female due to the dark rufous/chestnut
“hood” which was separated from the breast by a white band.
The bird had a distinctive white ring surrounding the eye and
a long slightly downward curved bill. Males of the Australian
Painted Snipe have a brown-greyish head with greater wing
coverts coloured pale olive brown with black-edged black
spots (Johnstone & Storr 1998) which would exclude any
confusion with females.
Initially the bird was ushed from dense grass c.1 m from
the western shore of Coondiner pool. When ushed the bird
ew about 60 m to the eastern shore. The ight was relatively
low, slow with a zigzag path and legs dangling. After land-
ing the bird quickly walked into dense grass lining the pool
where it was observed for c.3 minutes. The bird was ushed
about 10 minutes later from this location making an abrupt
and harsh “krek-krek” call, before ying along the margin of
the wetland (c.40 m) and landing in dense Eriachne benthamii
grass. Here the bird was again ushed on two more occasions
before making the same call and ying across the pool, near
to where it was rst observed.
Vocalizations of the Australian Painted Snipe are poorly-
known. Many eld guides note the Australian Painted Snipe
as making a “krek-krek” when alarmed, although this is rarely
recorded; silence when ushed has become one of the species
diagnostic behavioural features (C. Purnell, pers. comm.).
Both male and female birds have previously been recorded
making a sharp “kak” when ushed (D. Rogers, pers. comm.).
The call was described by Lowe (1963) from one encounter
as a loud “kek” or “kak” repeated four times at intervals of
less than one second. This is consistent with our record. The
individual ushed at Coondiner Pool was very vocal, calling
three of the four times it was ushed.
There are no other shorebirds in Australia or the Pilbara
that could be confused with the bird seen. The Red-kneed
Dotterel Erythrogonys cinctus which is known to inhabit simi-
lar areas (BirdLife Australia 2012b) was recorded at Coon-
diner Pool and is the most morphologically similar species.
However, they are smaller bodied (17–19.5 cm compared to
24–30 cm in Australian Painted Snipe) and have a distinctive
black hood, black chest band, shorter bill and lack an eye ring
making confusion with this species highly unlikely (Fig. 2;
Johnstone & Storr 1998).
Australian Painted Snipe have only been recorded at six
locations (a total of eight records) within a 500 km radius of
Coondiner Pool and all are less than 50 km from the coast
(Fig. 3; BirdLife Australia 2012b). The most recent Pilbara
record comes from the junction of Western Creek and Kar-
ratha–Tom Price Road c.50 km from the coast (210'50.92"S,
Fig. 1. View south-east along the length of Coondiner Pool on
31 Mar 2012.
Fig. 2. Female Australian Painted Snipe (foreground) with Red-
kneed Dotterel Erythrogonys cinctus in background at Samsonvale,
Queensland, Nov 2003 (photo: Tom Tarrant ©).
Knuckey et al.: Record of Endangered Australian Painter Snipe in the Fortescue valley, Pilbara region
117°03'36.34"E) on the 17 and 19 Sep 2011 (BirdLife Aus-
tralia 2012b).
None of the 123 consulting reports searched held a re-
cord of the Australian Painted Snipe. In addition, biological
databases, and reports focusing on the Australian Painted
Snipe or Pilbara region contained only two Pilbara records
of the species (Table 1). An additional record for the inland
Pilbara was found in Storr (1984): a male bird observed by
J.A. Smith at Paraburdoo sewerage ponds (23°12'46.46"S,
117°39'47.45"E) on the 14 Dec 1974 (Fig. 3). This is 210 km
to the west of Coondiner Pool. Two Australian Painted Snipe
were also recorded by Marco Groot on the 19 Oct 2012 at
Carawine Gorge (21°28'51"S, 121°01'46"E) (Fig. 3) (WABS
2012). Carawine Gorge is situated 200 km north-east of
Coondiner Pool. Distribution maps of the Australian Painted
Snipe from Johnstone & Storr (1998) show a record c.70 km
north-east of Newman, although further details are lacking.
Our Pilbara record is only the third record from the
inland Pilbara bioregion, the first from the Fortescue
valley and the first from the proposed Fortescue Marsh
reserve. This record is one of a spate of records (>400)
throughout Australia between Oct 2009 and 2012, dur-
ing a particularly active La Niña period of widespread
above average rainfall and flood events, with the Pilbara
Fig. 3. Northern Western Australia showing all known records of Australian Painted Snipe and (inset) all known records of the species in
the whole of Australia (BirdLife Australia 2012a, Storr 1984, WABS 2012). 1, 2 = Junction of Western Creek and Karratha–Tom Price Road
(2011); 3 = Paraburdoo Sewage Ponds (1974); 4 = De Grey River (1907); 5 = Carawine Gorge (2012); 6 = Sandre Floodplain (1999); 7 =
Anna Plains Station (2002); 8 = Anna Plains Station (2012); 9, 10 = Lake Carnegie (1890, 1896).
9
10
8
7
6
5
4
1
2
3
Telfer
Port
Hedland
Karratha
Onslow
Newman
Tom Price
Sources: USGS, ESRI, TANA, AND
110°
20° S
25°
115°
120° E
Table 1. Summary of major database, reports and publications searched (unsuccessfully) for records of the Australian Painted Snipe.
Database or literature Timing Methods
Birdata Custom Search (2012)
N/A Database search (inclusive of BirdLife Australia and Atlas of Living Australia
databases) of records within Pilbara biogeographical region.
Bird Survey of Nelson Point Wetlands in April 2011.
Bennelongia (2011a)
Apr 2011 Ornithological diversity and abundance surveys across seven sites within the
Nelson Point Wetlands, Port Hedland. Habitats included articial lakes, saline
wetlands, freshwater wetlands and tidal creek systems.
Port Hedland Migratory Shorebird Survey Report and
Impact Assessment. Bennelongia (2011b)
Apr 2011 Ornithological diversity and abundance surveys across nine sites surrounding
Port Hedland. Habitats included sand/reef intertidal zones, mangroves, and tidal
creeks.
Birds in a vast arid upland: avian biogeographical
patterns in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.
Burbidge et al. (2010)
Sep–Oct 2004,
May 2005,
Sep–Oct 2005,
May 2006
Ornithological diversity surveys across 297 sites (16 ha each) within the Pilbara
region. Habitats included clay plains, saline muds, riverine sites etc.
Report on December 2009 search for the Night Parrot.
Bamford Consulting Ecologists (2010)
Dec 2009 Observations, spotlighting, walk-in traps, mist-netting, motion-sensitive
cameras in areas surrounding Fortescue Marsh. Habitats included articial
pools, marsh, permanent pools.
The Breeding Bottleneck: Breeding Habitat and
Population Decline in the Australian Painted Snipe
(Rogers et al. 2003)
N/A Detailed literature and database review of Australian Painted Snipe records
across Australia.
Wader Study Group Bulletin 120(1) 2013
having the second and third wettest years on record,
and the wettest two-year period in recorded history
(BirdLife Australia 2012b; BOM 2012). This record is
consistent with the hypothesis that Australian Painted
Snipes disperse into the north Australian tropics (and
adjacent areas) during summer periods when conditions
become suitable because of high rainfall events.
Despite being recorded throughout much of continental
Australia (Fig. 3), the Australian Painted Snipe has a small
area of occupancy of c.2,000 km
2
(Garnett et al. 2011). Most
records come from SE Australia, particularly the Murray-
Darling drainage system which appears to be the core range
of the species, especially during periods of drought (Barrett
et al. 2003, BirdLife Australia 2012a, Garnett et al. 2011,
Geering et al. 2007). There are only a few records of Austra-
lian Painted Snipe from Western Australia. Most of these are
from wetlands in the south-west (Barrett et al. 2003, Hassell
& Rogers 2002, Johnstone & Storr 1998), the north-east
Kimberley region (Barrett et al. 2003, Hassell & Rogers
2002, Minton 2006, Piersma & Hassell 2010) and areas sur-
rounding Carnarvon along the mid-west coast (Birdata 2012,
George 2009).
Hassell & Rogers (2002) identify two habitats that the
species seems to prefer, “well-vegetated fresh water swamps
and “samphire claypans after fresh water ood events”. Much
of the Fortescue marsh, situated c.15 km north of Coon-
diner Pool is composed of samphire claypans which become
episodically inundated following years of high rainfall (van
Leeuwen 2004). Although Australian Painted Snipe have
never been recorded on the Fortescue Marsh, the proximity
of our record and the extensive suitable habitat within the
Fortescue Marsh indicates that it might occur there. Several
other waterbirds appear to select the same habitat as Austra-
lian Painted Snipe and may therefore be indicators of potential
snipe habitat; for example, Black-winged Stilt Himantopus
himantopus, Red-kneed Dotterel, and Black-tailed native-hen
Tribonyx ventralis (BirdLife Australia 2012b) have all been
recorded at both Coondiner and the Fortescue Marsh. Further
waterbird surveys at the Fortescue Marsh targeting the Aus-
tralian Painted Snipe (and other waterbirds) would provide
valuable information on this threatened species.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Thanks to Chris Purnell (BirdLife Australia) for conducting
a database search of Australian Painted Snipe records in the
Pilbara and providing a map of all Australian records. We
would also like to thank Chris for reviewing the manuscript
and making valuable comments and suggestions. We thank
Matti Mikkonen for preparing Fig. 3. Thanks also to Tom Tar-
rant for allowing us use of his photo, and Mike Bamford, Rob
Davis, Stuart Halse, and Chris Hassell who provided records
or conrmed a lack of Australian Painted Snipe records for
the Pilbara and surrounding areas, and to Danny Rogers who
provided personal information and literature on vocalisations
by the Australian Painted Snipe.
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... The Fortescue Marsh (~1300 km 2 ), lying at 410 m above sea-level, is the largest ephemeral wetland in the Pilbara bioregion. Near the Marsh are several shallow claypan wetlands such as Coondiner Pool and Mungthannannie Pool (Knuckey et al. 2013), and wells and bores (Bamford & Turpin 2010), which provide habitat for waterbirds. A large portion (766 km 2 ) of Fortescue Marsh will be incorporated into the conservation estate following expiration of several pastoral leases in 2015 (WAPC 2009). ...
... A single female Australian Painted Snipe was flushed from tall grass on four occasions at Coondiner Pool during the morning of 31 March 2012 (Knuckey et al. 2013). ...
... There are very few inland Pilbara records of this species (Johnstone et al. 2013;Knuckey et al. 2013) (Bamford & Turpin 2010;DEC 2012). The Greenshank is a Palaearctic migrant that occurs mostly along the coast and is scarce to rare elsewhere in Western Australia (Johnstone & Storr 1998). ...
Article
Full-text available
The Fortescue Marsh in the Pilbara bioregion, Western Australia, is an extensive ephemeral wetland that fills episodically. It is considered as a potential Ramsar site and is recognised as a nationally important wetland and an Important Bird Area. We surveyed birds at 21 sites on the Fortescue Marsh and a further 23 sites (44 sites in total), including nearby claypans Coondiner Pool and Mungthannannie Pool, in the Fortescue Valley over 12 days in March–April and July 2012. A total of 100 bird species (34 waterbird and 66 landbird species) was recorded during the survey. A further 86 bird species (including 28 waterbird species and 58 landbird species) were recorded for this area from searches of databases and the literature (total of 187 species; 62 waterbirds). New and significant observations during the survey included the first breeding record of Australian Shelduck Tadorna tadornoides for the Pilbara, the first breeding records on the Marsh of Black-tailed Native-hen Tribonyx ventralis and Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia, and the first record of Australian Painted Snipe Rostratula australis for the Fortescue Valley. Despite this area’s importance to breeding and visiting waterbirds, the birds of the Fortescue Marsh remain surprisingly under-studied. We highlight some significant but overlooked literature records of waterbirds on the Marsh. Further ground and aerial surveys, and ongoing monitoring of this region would be valuable.
... The Australian Painted-snipe and the Australian Little Bittern are more commonly encountered in the Riverina region of New South Wales (NSW) and are comparatively rarely encountered within the Hunter Region of NSW (Birds Australia & Australasian Wader Studies Group 2002;BirdLife Australia 2015). The Murray-Darling River in western NSW has the most Australian Painted-snipe observations, however they are known to be highly nomadic and disperse to distant locations during periods of heavy rainfall and wetland inundation in other regions of Australia (Knuckey et al. 2013). The Australian Painted-snipe and the Australian Little Bittern can often go several years without detection in the Hunter Region (Stuart 1994(Stuart -2018Roderick 2014;Fraser 2020). ...
... Using this information, I hypothesise that the Australian The Australian Little Bittern was not observed by its eye-shine on any occasion, and it was either visually encountered during intensive searches through Common Reed or it was flushed. However, neither of the two birds that I encountered flushed easily and they could be approached to within a distance of ~1 m, which is against most other observations (Jaensch 1989;Knuckey et al. 2013). For example, the mean flight-initiation distance of the Australian Little Bittern in day time is 12.9 m (Weston et al. 2012), which is much larger than the flight-initiation distance of circa 0.5 m for the two birds I encountered. ...
Article
Full-text available
Some of the most difficult to detect Australian wetland birds include bitterns and snipes. Here I present novel nocturnal observations of the Australian Painted-snipe Rostratula australis and the Australian Little Bittern Ixobrychus dubius on Kooragang Island, NSW and discuss possible alternative survey methods based on these observations, in hopes of stimulating ideas for methods that increase the detection probability for these birds. The site contained 2.6 ha of wetlands which were surveyed for birds almost weekly (once during the day and once at night) from September to March during 2016 – 2019. During this time, a female Australian Painted-snipe was observed on three separate nights in September 2017, and a female Australian Little Bittern was observed once at night with certainty in November 2018. A male Australian Little Bittern was flushed during the day on 22/10/2019. There were several similarities for these observations: they all occurred within the same wetland, they occurred in spring when the wetlands had been charged with water for ~7 months and were in the process of drying, and most of the birds (with one exception) were observed at night. The snipe was detected from its eye-shine while the bittern was detected during a nocturnal reed search. Both species did not flush immediately when found in close-quarters at night time. I hypothesise that nocturnal visual encounter surveys in drying ephemeral wetlands during spring will lead to a higher detection probability of these species compared to traditional survey methods.
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The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2010 is the third in a series of action plans that have been produced at the start of each decade. The book analyses the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) status of all the species and subspecies of Australia's birds, including those of the offshore territories. For each bird the size and trend in their population and distribution has been analysed using the latest iteration of IUCN Red List Criteria to determine their risk of extinction. The book also provides an account of all those species and subspecies that are or are likely to be extinct. The result is the most authoritative account yet of the status of Australia's birds. In this completely revised edition each account covers not only the 2010 status but provides a retrospective assessment of the status in 1990 and 2000 based on current knowledge, taxonomic revisions and changes to the IUCN criteria, and then reasons why the status of some taxa has changed over the last two decades. Maps have been created specifically for the Action Plan based on vetted data drawn from the records of Birds Australia, its members and its partners in many government departments. This is not a book of lost causes. It is a call for action to keep the extraordinary biodiversity we have inherited and pass the legacy to our children. 2012 Whitley Award Commendation for Zoological Resource.
Article
Observations were made on the breeding―involving a total of eight nests―of the Painted Snipe (Rostratula benghalensis) during the summer of a flood year (1956) in north-western Victoria. Field notes on plumage, breeding biology, and behaviour are supplemented by published and unpublished information from other sources. The present status of the species is difficult to define; it may he of regular seasonal occurrence in some districts, but quite sporadic and unpredictable in others. For example, the species was not recorded near Melbourne between 1897 and 1951, when some individuals of a small flock remained in the one locality (Altona) between May and September. In the present case, the breeding flock remained in the Kerang district for about 150 days.
Article
Despite its distinctive morphology, the taxonomy of the Australian Painted Snipe has been unsettled, with some authors treating it as a full species, Rostratula australis (Gould 1838), and others treating it as a subspecies of the Greater Painted Snipe, Rostratula benghalensis. We sequenced the DNA of five mitochondrial genes (Cyt b, ND5, ATP 6-8, COIII and COI) of Australian Painted Snipe, Greater Painted Snipe and South American Painted Snipe, Nycticryphes semicollaris. The sequences of Australian Painted Snipe were 10% different from those of Greater Painted Snipe from Africa and South-east Asia, which differed from one another by only 2%. Plumage and anatomical characters can also distinguish the Australian and the Greater Painted Snipes. Our results clearly indicate that the Australian Painted Snipe is a distinct species that diverged similar to 19 million years ago (mya) (95% credible interval 13.0, 27.4 mya).