I HAVE to confess to being a bit of a word geek. I love finding out the origin of unusual words or phrases, and the stranger the better (Susie Dent in dictionary corner is my heroine).

For instance, a sniper (as in crack shot with a rifle from a hiding place) originally described someone who could hit a bird called a snipe while it was in flight.

Snipes are notoriously difficult to shoot because they fly fast and low, constantly jinking from side to side. I know this because I watched one doing just that in the waterlogged corner of a field by Kirby Misperton Bridge recently.

I was exploring the banks of Costa Beck, near its confluence with Pickering Beck on a crisp, frosty morning, when out shot this dusky, speckled, thrush-sized bird from right under my feet.

It had obviously been hiding in the dead, brown waterside vegetation and relying on its excellent camouflage until the last possible moment.

One thing I did notice before it disappeared into the distance, was that it possessed an unusually long and straight bill.

Measuring 10 inches from skull to tip, this bill is almost as long as the rest of the bird’s body, making it the longest, relative to body size, of any bird in Britain.

Like other birds in the wader family, snipes use their long, sensitive bills to probe soft mud for invertebrates to eat.

I had obviously upset my snipe by almost treading on it, because as it flew it warned other snipes in the vicinity of my presence with a repeated grating alarm call, often written a “scaap” or “scaip” in field guidebooks.

During the spring courtship season though, male snipes make a completely different sound – an eerie fluting noise known as “drumming” or “bleating”.

So distinctive is this noise that it has resulted in many regional names for the bird like sky-goat, bog bleater and heather bleater.

Even more remarkable is how snipes actually make this noise, because drumming is produced not vocally, but mechanically.

Two modified tail feathers are stuck out at 90° as the bird makes a steep dive and their vibration in the fast air causes the noise.

This mechanism was worked out in the early 1900s by an amateur ornithologist called Philip Manson-Bahr and he proved his findings in front of an audience by recreating the snipe’s “song”.

At a meeting of the British Trust for Ornithology in a London restaurant he attached the two tail feathers to a cork and swung it around his head on the end of the piece of string! Bizarre - I bet the waiters wondered what on earth was going on.

We have snipes in Ryedale all year round but, oddly, our summer birds are different ones to the individuals we see in winter.

In fact, not only are they different birds but they belong to a different sub-species altogether.

During the breeding season, the common snipe (Galinago galinago galinago) nests on the wetter areas of moorland in the North York Moors, Fen Bog being a particularly favoured site, and in the winter they migrate south to southern Europe and Africa.

Meanwhile, a northern subspecies, let’s call it the Arctic snipe (Galinago galinago faroeensis) has been breeding in Iceland and the Faroe, Shetland and Orkney Islands and comes to us for the winter.

So, the bird that I almost trod on at Kirby Misperton could theoretically have been the very one that I was lucky enough to get a photo of this summer just gone in northern Iceland. A nice thought.