Buff-bellied Pipit

at Flamborough?

17th September 2014

Martin Garner

Just over a week ago. I was doing what’s called the ‘Old Fall circuit and was on the south side of the outer headland at Flamborough. The previous 20 minutes had been full of interest. A stunning dark morph juvenile Honey Buzzard had given lovely views as it spiralled south out over the sea. Then a line of Greenlandish Wheatears and Whinchats were sat along a fence line in classic autumn pose.
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I then picked up a lone pipit on the crest of  the next , south of the ‘gorse field’.
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buffy four
Looked through bins and instantly thought: “looks like a Buff-bellied PIpit!” What! No really that was my first thought. No hesitation.
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 Through bins I could see really rich buff underparts– strongest colour in breast region but extending over the whole of the underparts. Bold streaking was present but limited to (upper) breast; couldn’t actually make any streaking out below this- certainly no ‘lines’ along the flanks were visible. It looked like no Meadow Pipit- and I have seen and photographed some colourful and wacky ones.
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It had an ‘open face’  with a big buffy supercilium running into obvious eye ring.
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The pattern of the coverts was instantly familiar with big ‘loose-looking’ greater coverts caused by a broad fringe all around feathers – an Meadow Pipit there is usually amore obvious wing bar.
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I grabbed for my camera knowing it could just about capture details I struggled to see through binoculars. Unfortunately it can be very hard to get auto zoom to focus on such small image. I fired off 6 shots and then it flew. It got into brief chase with Meadow Pipit and disappeared over the cliff edge.
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I immediately radioed a message to local birders along the lines of “come and help me look for a bird that I thought ‘looked good for Buff-bellied Pipit’ – crazy as it sounds!”
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Here’s the best of the pics. Only 2 poses were captured- in profile and facing- these are the best.
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buffy two

Here’s what it looked like through camera and blown up:

buffy 8buffy 7

Six other birders joined in the search. Most Meadow Pipits (40 plus) were in an adjacent grass field which was out-of-bounds. No further sightings.

This was the peak time of Icelandic Meadow Pipits to move through the east coast, plus the unusually presence of obvious Greenland Wheatears

Played this game before

I had the same reaction only once before. ‘Looks just like a Buff-bellied Pipit’:

Here’s what I wrote in October 2011 on finding a Buff-bellied Pipit with Paul Harvey, Roger Riddington and Brian Small:

…Only taking a few more steps I noticed a movement amongst the cattle-chewed vegetables, put my binoculars onto it to see a bird that looked just like a Buff-bellied Pipit! It’s hard to say why it seemed rather obvious, the bird was in full view and not far away. I think partly I was fully genned up having made daily checks of numerous Meadow and regular Rock pipits for this very species. I had even made an excursion out onto the wild west side of Unst with Brydon T and our Shetland Nature group little more than a week earlier, specifically looking for Buff-bellied Pipit. Thus I had a high level of current familiarity with the common species.
Having made the initial shock assessment, I looked again and ticked off ‘big open face’, ‘rich apricot buff underparts’, ‘broad diffuse buffy wingbars’ and crucially the clinching feature for me; incredibly plain upperparts. I turned and none of the other three, now a field away, were looking in my direction. I didn’t dare shout, so I looked back at the bird, it was still there and it still looked just like a Buff-bellied Pipit. I turned around, praying now that someone would be looking my way, and thankfully Paul was. I waved frantically and all three were soon up and straight onto the bird. It took a moment for their shock to subside but all quickly concurring around a common thought- it really was one!

Here photos of the 2011 bird on Shetland, with more of a write up HERE

Buff-bellied Pipit , Quendale, October 2011. Phil Woolen

Buff-bellied Pipit , Quendale, October 2011. Phil Woolen

Buff -bellied Pipit Quendale, October 2011. Mark Payne

Buff -bellied Pipit Quendale, October 2011. Mark Payne

 

Buff-bellied Pipit , Quendale, October 2011. Phil Woolen

Buff-bellied Pipit , Quendale, October 2011. Phil Woolen

Comments from friends on the Flamborough photos. A couple of folk wondered if a wacky Meadow Pipit could be eliminated- though my field impression was far from that. The majority thought…

Wow! It does look really good….that was my first impression from your Twitter photo and still is my feeling now based on face pattern and coverts plus general colour.

 My first impression on seeing your photo was Buff-bellied but I am not sure the photos alone are enough. Hard to see what else it could be (although the photos look a bit pinky and it’s hard to be sure what the lores are so could it be a moulting adult water Pipit?).

Hmm, pfff (:-)) It almost looks like a summer plumage…!? rich-buffy breast, greyish upperparts, no obvious flank-streaking? Anyway it certainly looks very interesting. Summer plumage Water Pipit maybe comes close but how odd would that be…! And maybe bill looks too small too for Rock/Water Pipit.

It looks like a Buff-Bellied Pipit to me. And it sounds as though that’s what it was.
The wing bars look very pro-BB, although personally I think that median covert bar is more obviously pro-BB and anti-MP than the greater-covert bar. 

 

 

 

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