Category Archives: a) Pipits

Blyth’s Pipit on Utsira

Challenging ID – still present

Bjørn Ove Høyland in touch last week about this young, large(ish) pipit, just across the North sea from Britain. The bird is till present yesterday (17th October) on the ‘Fair Isle’ of Norway. Utsira.  Great guys and I had hoped to go and speak at the birders get togther n Utsira this autumn. Really sorry I could not make it. Dang!


What can you see in the photos?

There’s a challenge. There always is with Blyth’s and Richards’ Pipits. Has this bird got pro- Blyth’s features? Is it identifiable? Maybe you can even check out our pages in the new WINTER book on Blyth’s and Richards’ Pipits!

They don’t really need my waffle.  I have to say this looks very Blyth’s. The bird has the nice slightly depressed upper mandible and more dagger/ pointed bill. Lovely evenly streaked crown, shortish supercilium not the length and breadth of many Richard’s. The flanks are well coloured and the hind claw looks rather decurved and about the right length. The tail does not look especially long.

The juvenile median coverts are not especially telling- a tad less compact and squarish than some Blyth’s which can be quite a good mimic of the adult pattern.

I don’t see anything in plumage and structure against it Blyth’s – indeed the photos show a bird that looks like one.

_MG_0834_mongolpip _MG_0787_mongolpip _MG_0705_mongolpip


Thankfully the bird called. It was heard by the guys on Utsira to give a ‘chip’ call many time. I can hear the call OK on the recording. Blyth’s do produce intermediate calls between the chip and the Yellow Wagtail psh-oo call. I recorded some last year on the Wakefield bird… so there is variety in the sound of the ‘chip’. This seems to fit the bill.

Have a listen


I can’t access (to make the links) to my own SoundCloud account, but you can listen to the recordings of the Wakefield Blyth’s Pipit giving both the ‘chip’ call and the ‘pssh-oo’ call by click HERE and just scroll a wee bit.

And this is well worth a very quick watch. A video of the bird clearly calling as it flies up. Thanks to Atle Grimbsy who sent a link. CLICK HERE.

These always help me increase my learning.

Pechora Pipit, Blyth’s Reed Warbler, emotions and friends

Difficult is not Impossible

Known for- well since I started birding as A 'Shetland Speciality. The moniker still sticks. Away from the Northern Isles, Pechora Pipits remains extremely difficult to see in Britain. We saw one on our first day on Shetland.. of course ;)

Known for- well since I started birding as A ‘Shetland Speciality. The moniker still sticks. Away from the Northern Isles, Pechora Pipits remains extremely difficult to see in Britain. We saw one on our first day on Shetland.. of course 😉

30th September 2015. Waking up in the early hours at R and A’s was special. Always is, but especially today. After yesterday journey north form Flamborough, I passed through something. I pass through the moment two ears ago at York Station where unbeknownst to me the sharp pain in my back at the time on lifting a suitcase awkwardly was a vertebrae collapsing.  A cancerous tumor had eroded my bone tissue. Obviously my life changed forever at that point. but it didn’t need to define me. It took several months to diagnose but I spoke to that situation yesterday. I stared back at myself and spoke to the cancer of two years earlier and very emphatically declared. ” You will not define me!”

Coming back to Shetland has many times seemed impossible and impractical. Thankfully difficult is not the same as impossible. I genuinely could not have had a more special journey with Sharon. Felt like a was living in high-definition all the way. Now I wish for her an extra special holiday while remembering that she is not a birder!

Yoav’s enthusiasm has been infectious and his humility at wanting to join us for this trip and being so patient around my annoying and frustrating unpredictability has been so gracious. R and A and B and V have paved the way, without them…

Keep and eye on Yoav’s blog, Nubian Nightjar for better pics and story line.

So here we begin. Roger’s garden stumped up  three Yellow -browed Warblers and Chiffchaff. As we ringed the Yellow-broweds, they called that lovely less familiar monosyllabic call. 60 PInk-feet Geese flew over south. We were here! Now to thoroughly engage and enjoy 🙂

Yellow-browed Warblers at Virkie by Martin Garner

Yellow-browed Warblers at Virkie by Martin Garner

With a supposed relaxed morning planned to rest little and sort some details I was chuffed to bits for Yoav when, in taking the walk from Paul’s to Roger’s he found this Blyth’s Reed Warbler. BOOM! Welcome to Shetland 🙂

Blyth's Reed Warbler, Toab by Yoav Perlman

Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Toab by Yoav Perlman

The day was already changing. Will, Sharon and I drove to see Yoav’s bird.  A really smart clean Blyth’s Reed Warbler together with more Yellow-browed acolytles. We then headed north to Lerwick to ‘get organised’. That was until Timmy Jones of Spurn picked up a pod of Killer Wales heading north. Headless chicken mode ensued but to no avail. A couple of Otter were lovely though.

The main afternoon slot had to go to the Pechora out west at Norby. With some serendipity we did see it well and I managed  some OK shots.

Here it’s wet, may just have ben washing in the burn:

Pechora Pipit 3 (1 of 1)

a little drier on the edge of some Canary Reed Grass.

Shetland Stormer!Pechora Pipit 4 (1 of 1)Pechora Pipit 6 (1 of 1)

A drake Scaup on Loch Norby invited a quick check for the Nearctic taxon… unrecorded in Europe. However the vermiculation pattern looked very Palearctic. Whooped Swans flew over and life was good!

scaup (1 of 1) whoopers (1 of 1)

Yellow-browed Warblers remained inescapable:

Yellow browed warbler 1 (1 of 1)


We called by a place named Cot and Ian and Yoav managed v brief views of the Arctic Warbler. Me? just pinching myself as we head back to the loveliest lady in the world.

and err… can’t resist another

Pechora 7 (1 of 1)




Stejneger’s Stonechat already in the Western Palearctic..?

Shetland’s next birds..?

Blogging from a train bound for Shetland with Mrs G. and Mr Perlman. Rory and Will have re-found the Pechora out on the west side (THIS bird). And the PG Tips are Quendale was duff (Duff is a new word for Yoav – he didn’t get that one :). He did though notice Jari’s blog post.

Oof! Has a young female Stejneger’s Stonechat already made it to Finland by late September? Looks that way! And they have at least one if not two Blyth’s PIpit’s – only the second record for Finland in September. Wow. Read more on Jani Vastamäki’s BLOG here.

Maybe this is some of the flavour for Shetland in the next few days…

To me the plumage tones above and about the head pattern (there is some weird black staining above the eye and on crown) and especially the rump colour and very pro-Stejneger’s Stonechat and seems well away from typical maurus. I suspect it is a Stejneger’s as Yoav does and I bet Jani does.



and really early Blyth’s Pipit(s) to go with it…  Something interesting is going on for birders in Shetland me thinks. OO…that’s where we are going to be tonight! Sat in Riddington Towers supping single malt, ready for the assault tomorrow.

And can’t resist that the species are showcased in books in the Challenge Series. The Stejneger’s Stonechat in AUTUMN and the tricky Blyth’s Pipit in WINTER. Let’s hope they get further testing!



Blyth’s Pipit by Jani- very early and maybe some Shetland bound.

MORE  more on Jani Vastamäki’s BLOG here.


Pechora Pipit

Key features on an impossible bird!

Found by intrepid explorers Riddington and Tallack and whose team I hope to join as a very minor sub, this Pechora Pipit is the first in the U.K. this autumn. The bird was at Melby, yesterday (22nd Sept.) which is on Shetland Mainland, on the west side  just opposite Papa Stour.

Unfortunately it would simply would not sit up and give close views. So they resorted to mega recording tactics. Flights shots with key ID features AND a sound recording. Now the latter may not ‘sound’ so amazing, except that Pechora Pipits hardly ever seem to call on Shetland.

and you CAN see the primary projection in one of the photos. Nay bad goin’ lads!

Flight photos by Shetland’s top photographer Roger Riddington

J75A0426 J75A0430a Pechora

Ya’ll need to listen a couple of times-  but remember, the recording of a calling Pechora on Shetland is a mega in itself:

Recording and sonagram by Shetland’s top sound recordist (and ace photographer) Rory Tallack: (in fact between me and you, Shetland’s top sound recordist has access to the fancy technology such as mine, but he was working with his phone y’day – brilliant!)

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 21.01.07



The Pink and Blue Ones

littoralis glory

While we have a fine selection of more subtle Scandinavian Rock Pipits currently at Flamborough- one would like a proper pink and blue one. From deep down in Dorset at Ferrybridge, Brett Spencer has sent photos of the kinda of thing to make ya drool :). Such Water Pipit-esq coloured littoralis are gorgeous – maybe ours have colours still to come…

Brett S littoralis 2 Brett S littoralis 1

Scandinavian Rock Pipit, ‘littoralis’. Ferrybridge, Dorset, Brett Spencer.


Scandinavian Rock Pipits

littoralis coming into colour at Flamborough

It’s that time of year. Especially at certain locations on Britain’s east and south coasts, on migration flyways inland- those Rock Pipits from further north and east prepare to head off. But before the do some ‘colour-up’. Specifically they flush beautiful tones of peachiness on the underparts and blues on the head, grey on the uppers and lose some of the streaking below. A stronger whitish supercilium appears. Flamborough probably as some figure well into double figures between a North and South Landing flocks. At least 6+ at South landing are showing colours:

Some of ’em are going to get even more colourful before they go.

litoralis srp10 march s (1 of 1) litoralis srp10 march t (1 of 1) litoralis srp10 march v (1 of 1) littoralis 10 march b (1 of 1) littoralis 10 march c (1 of 1) littoralis 10 march g (1 of 1) littoralis 10 march i (1 of 1) littoralis 10 march j (1 of 1) littoralis 10 march k (1 of 1) littoralis 10 march m (1 of 1) littoralis 10 march n (1 of 1) littoralis 10 march o (1 of 1) littoralis 10 march p (1 of 1) littoralis srp10 march  b (1 of 1) littoralis srp10 march  c (1 of 1)



Isn’t Evolution Brilliant?

By Terry

 “One of the most exciting discoveries I have been involved with” – Professor Per Alström  

This was how Per described the results of his latest research, released last week.

Coming from the man who, among other things, discovered the breeding grounds of the enigmatic Blackthroat in China, not to mention several species of bird new to science, this was quite a statement.

And so, unusually for me, I read a scientific report from front to back. And it reminded me – as if I needed reminding – just how brilliant are nature and evolution.

Per’s report – based on DNA analysis – reveals that two little-known forest-dwelling birds are actually members of the pipits and wagtails family, evolving very different appearance and behavior after colonizing tropical-forested islands.

The Madanga Madanga ruficollis, occurring exclusively on the island of Buru, Indonesia, is actually a pipit (Anthus) and the São Tomé Shorttail Amaurocichla bocagi is a wagtail (Motacilla). The strikingly different appearance of these birds, compared with their closest relatives, has totally obscured their true relationships.

Madanga ruficollis © Rob Hutchinson

The Madanga, formerly considered an aberrant-looking white-eye (!) is actually a pipit, displaying plumage not resembling any of the world’s 40 species of Anthus. Photo by Rob Hutchinson/Birdtour Asia

Tree Pipit Israel April © Göran Ekström

A more ‘traditional’ pipit – a Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis). Photo by Göran Ekström.



The Sao Tome Shorttail (Amaurocichla bocagi) is actually a wagtail. Photo by Fabio Olmos (

2014-04-06 White Wagtail ssp baicalensis2, Ma Chang

A more ‘traditional’ wagtail – a White Wagtail (ssp baicalensis).

As well as plumage, the Madanga and São Tomé Shorttail have different habitat choice and feeding style from pipits and wagtails. Both inhabit primary forest, where the former feeds like a nuthatch on epiphyte-covered branches and tree-trunks, while the latter feeds both on the ground and on tree trunks and branches. In contrast, nearly all pipits and wagtails occur in open habitats, and all forage exclusively on the ground.

The suggestion is that the radically different appearances of these birds were triggered by the fundamental shifts in habitat and feeding behaviour following their colonisation of forest-covered tropical islands. This is estimated to have happened around 4 and 3.3 million years ago, respectively.

The presumption is that the birds’ ancestors were long distance migratory species that landed on the islands and became established, despite the alien habitat.

These islands were probably totally covered by forest when these birds’ ancestors first arrived, which is a very unfamiliar habitat to pipits and wagtails,” Professor Alström said.

Two of the closest relatives to the Madanga are the European Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis) and the Olive-backed Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni), which, although breeding in forested areas, nest and feed on the ground.

“Although the Madanga’s plumage is very different, interestingly, the structure of the bird is quite similar to the Tree Pipit and we believe that the ancestor of the Madanga was pre-adapted to this new niche it became established within.” – Professor Per Alström 


Tree Pipits are very good at creeping through dense vegetation on the ground. When they are startled and flushed from the vegetation, they often fly up into a tree and they will sit there or they are able to walk quite effortlessly along bigger branches. But they never feed up in the trees, so the hypothesis here is that the ancestor of the Madanga would come to the island of Buru, which was completely covered in forest, and it might have fed on the ground between the trees but then would fly up into the canopy when it was scared by something. It would have then discovered that there was plenty of food on these epiphyte-covered branches and, as it was pre-adapted to walking along branches and in thick ground cover, it could probably have managed fairly well in that new habitat.”

Prof Alström said that this would have meant that there was no evolutionary pressure for it to evolve a new structure.

For example, if you look at the bill, it is very similar to a Tree Pipit’s, and so are the legs and claws. This means the actual shape of the bird has not changed very much.”



For the full report, see: Alström P, Jønsson KA, Fjeldså J, Ödeen A, Ericson PGP, Irestedt M. 2015 Dramatic niche shifts and morphological change in two insular bird species.R. Soc. open sci.2: 140364. See URL:

And Per Alström’s research page can be accessed here.