Category Archives: a) Pipits

Blyth’s Pipit in West Yorkshire

and those two call types

Martin Garner

The Patchwork Challenge and on a smaller scale the Foot-it Challenge have given some form to the wonder and passion of local area birding. There is great banter and not a little rivalry as folk work their patches. Citizen science wins too. When Jonny Holliday found a Blyth’s Pipit two days ago on his patch it was a bit of a shocker. I know the area as I used to visit regularly when living in Sheffield. The patch the Blyth’s Pipit has chosen couldn’t be more seemingly incongruous.

Blyth's Pipit at Calder Wetlands, West Yorkshire by Jonny Holliday

Blyth’s Pipit at Calder Wetlands, West Yorkshire by Jonny Holliday

RBA have produced this helpful map which illustrates its chosen habitat- thats the M1 motorway to the left and an industrial complex all around:


Dave Aitken provided great companionship and most of the flight shots below are his. I enjoyed meeting a number of birding buddies there too.

It’s a remarkable find. Hearing both of the classic call types was once again educational. The longer “Richard’s Pipit-like call’ which I transcribe as splee-u sounded to my ears – not really like a Richards Pipit at all, being somewhat disyllabic sounding, higher pitched, down-slurred and sweeter- more flava wagtail like (as it has been described before). The ‘chip’ call was great to hear.

Have a listen (apologies re: motorway noise and wind)- how would you describe the call versus Richard’s Pipit?

Blyths pipit Dave Aitken 5

Blyths pipit Dave Aitken 8


Blyth's Pipit shleep call 9th Dec 2014 four


Blyths Pipit chip call 9th dec 2014.png two


Blyth's Pipit by Dave Aitken- which reveals the second outermost tail feather with small blob of white near the tail tip- versus more extensive white wedge on T5 found on a Richard's Pipit.

Blyth’s Pipit by Dave Aitken- which reveals the second outermost tail feather with small blob of white near the tail tip- versus more extensive white wedge on T5 found on a Richard’s Pipit.

As there have been a few understandable and legitimate comments on social media about ‘organised flushing’ – some excellent leg-pulling and also some more mischievous comments  (where presumptions are more interesting and provide easier fuel for scandal mongering than the truth) – for the record:

Seeing the bird was not easy so full credit to Jonny for making it work with minimal disturbance to the bird- which could have been very different. It’s a site that anyone can walk in and through, and indeed on several occasions since it was found the bird’s chosen field has been overrun by visiting birders. To manage this (some 400+ visitors yesterday) at periodic intervals a small group (usually 2-3 people) would walk along the western edge of the field on one sweep (leaving about 4\5 of the field undisturbed). The bird was seen to fly up usually once or twice, sometimes with Meadow Pipits. Considerable periods were spent with birders standing patiently on the bank without entering the field. While arguably not perfect, and I understand for some folk even this is a step too far, this seemed far more preferable than ‘leaving it to chance’ – which on several occasions already has lead to the field being overrun – and uncontrolled disturbance.


Once again- a remarkable ‘lifetimes find’ for Jonny and a the wonder of birds and their movements. Thanks for sharing it.

Blyth's Pipit JH 2


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.
I then picked up a lone pipit on the crest of  the next , south of the ‘gorse field’.
buffy four
Looked through bins and instantly thought: “looks like a Buff-bellied PIpit!” What! No really that was my first thought. No hesitation.
 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.
It had an ‘open face’  with a big buffy supercilium running into obvious eye ring.
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.
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.
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!”
Here’s the best of the pics. Only 2 poses were captured- in profile and facing- these are the best.
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. 




Icelandic Meadow Pipits

Identifiable? A different ssp.?

Clive McKay and Ben Porter

Ben’s questioning of these bright Meadow Pipits currently passing through Bardsey,combined with Clive’s study of Meadow Pipits over many years. Not definitive answers but great exploration of the subject. Clive’s words and Ben’s photos




These birds are good contenders for Icelandic Mipits. My ringing work has focussed on autumn birds (when they’re easy to catch). At that time of year I consider a yellowish wash to the upperparts along with a nice clear supercilium to be diagnostic of “non-British” birds.  I can’t be definitive about spring birds, but Ben’s fit the bill well for how the plumage should look after a winter’s bleaching and wear and tear. They resemble birds I saw on passage through Tinsley SF (AKA Blackburn Meadows) Sheffield many moons ago – April migrants which stood out from the local breeders in that they looked more like Tree Pipits. Kevin Shepherd put me on to this originally, as he had noted a spring passage of similar birds at Sheringham, north Norfolk.


Ben – the race whistleri in my humble opinion requires confirmation. The original type specimens came from east Scotland (it’s supposed to be a west Scotland/Ireland/Iceland race) and were taken during the autumn migration period – when they could have come from anywhere on planet Mipit.  I’m  planning to visit the Royal Scottish Museum to check out the skins when I get a chance.  Conversely, the Icelandic race probably IS sufficiently different to merit sub-specific status, but not as whistleri.


There’s every reason to believe that your birds could be the “Icelandic wave” passing >N through the west side of the country at the moment – recorded today at many west coast sites.


The chart below shows Mipit movements at vismig sites through the UK over the last two months. A rush of birds on 29th March was recorded mostly at west coast sites in Lancashire such as Fleetwood, Marshside, Rossall and Winter Hill, tying in with the arrival of your “Tree Mipits” at Bardsey a day earlier.



MEGA: Meadow Pipit!

By Terry Townshend

The title of this post is almost certainly not a message you will see on your RBA pager!  But it’s exactly the message that flashed up on the new “Birding Beijing” smartphone chat group on 14th January when Paul Holt found Beijing’s first MEADOW PIPIT at Miyun Reservoir.

 MEADOW PIPIT (Anthus pratensis) is the 455th species to be recorded in Beijing 

Paul was spoilt that day as he also found Beijing’s second ever (and first for more than 50 years!) ARCTIC REDPOLL (ssp exilipes).  In fact, it was as he was looking at the redpoll flock that he heard what he thought sounded like a MEADOW PIPIT.  Of course, being Beijing, he understandably thought it must have been a slightly unusual sounding japonicus BUFF-BELLIED PIPIT, itself pretty rare in the capital in winter.  It wasn’t until the redpoll flock disappeared on one of its regular forays that he turned to look for the suspected BUFF-BELLIED PIPIT and realised that it was, in fact, a MEADOW PIPIT!  Putting the news out quickly, it was subsequently ‘twitched’ by several of Beijing’s birders and is still there as I write, in the company of a flock of WATER PIPITS (Anthus spinoletta).

Some (heavily cropped) images of the MEADOW PIPIT here:

MEADOW PIPIT (Anthus pratensis), Miyun Reservoir, Beijing, 22 January 2014.  The heavily streaked back, plain rump and face, and the typical gait are all apparent in this photo.

MEADOW PIPIT (Anthus pratensis), Miyun Reservoir, Beijing, 22 January 2014. The heavily streaked back, plain rump and face, and the typical gait are all apparent in this photo.


One of Paul's original photos of the MEADOW PIPIT at Miyun Reservoir.  A spectacular find.

One of Paul’s original photos of the MEADOW PIPIT at Miyun Reservoir. A spectacular find.

This MEADOW PIPIT continues a spectacular start to 2014 in China’s capital with a COMMON CHIFFCHAFF (ssp tristis) discovered on 6 January in the Olympic Forest Park.  And with 7 new species added in 2013, the Beijing list now stands at a whopping 455.  There can’t be many major capital cities that compare…



Buff-bellied Pipit on the Wirral

But which one?

by Phil Woolen and MG

Buff-bellied Pipit PW 2 211213 PW

Thankfully I am ill at home. Only way I can keep up with young guns with their tweets, sharp questioning observations and media savvy ways. I had clocked the wonderful find of Eddie Williams earlier today. An (American) Buff-bellied Pipit back in my old home county of Cheshire :). Steve Williams put out some early photos which were a little disconcerting so I rang Phil Woolen…

Eddie found the bird yesterday (20th Dec.) and full credit for exploring and pursuing the ID. Lively Wirral pub chatter yesterday evening between birding colleagues produced a good turn out this morning; Eddie and others confirmed the identification to their satisfaction: It was indeed a Buff-bellied Pipit.

Back to those initial photos. Itan be a nightmare to get photos at Denhall Lane because you are looking straight into the low sun. Steve did well to get any images and some of the issues are due to back-lighting. Quietly waiting for Phil to send his pics- Next Gen birders woke up before I was ready… and began ‘twittering’ all the right question ;) , the same ones I had.

Phil got some very cool photos. These seem to revolve it, even though it’s not always easy- to separate the two taxa, while many are distinctive, there is some convergence of characters. Have a look:

Buff-bellied Pipit PW 1 211213Buff-bellied Pipit PW 3 211213Buff-bellied PipitPW110 211213_1

Buff-bellied Pipit PW8 211213

Overall I see this bird has legs too dark for most japonicus, even though they flash paler in back-lit sunshine. I want nice pale things. The median covert bar is paler but not really dazzling white. The underpart streaking is definitely on the browner side and fine from side on (not really blackish looking). But then the head on shot is scary- does look like the spotting is blackish and spotty. However to claim a first for Britain (which a japonicus would be) from those photos I would want a blacker/thicker malar line, whiter looking supercilium, colder darker looking upperparts with just tad more streaking  and some more contrast below being colder and whiter looking.

American Buff- bellied Pipit  ‘rubescens’ is what I think it is on balance, perhaps a first winter bird that is now a little worn and faded. Always noting the dangers of commenting on photos of birds you have not seen and how easy it is to be misdirected. Ideally I should see it in the field, but I am not allowed out :( . My limited experience of calls is that rubescens more often has raspy Grey Wagtail-like element whereas that japonicus in Israel sounded indistinguishable from Meadow Pipit. So have a look at the pics. Better still go see it – and make you’re own mind up. Well done Eddie! Thanks to Phil W. and Steve Williams (who sent his images while watching the Liverpool match. What mad world we live in!). Oh and the Next Geners – with all the right Q’s.

Buff-bellied Pipit PW10 211213 PW


Pipit ID Challenge

Aberrant Meadow

by Rune Sø Neergaard

Rune is an Administrator on Netfugl, blogger on BirdingNJ and member of the Danish Rarities Committee.


This pipit was photographed at Bøjden Nor on the island of Funen, Denmark on the 5th of April by local birder Klaus Schak Laursen.


It has created some debate in Denmark and Scandinavian Rock Pipit (littoralis which is the only race known to occur in Denmark), Water Pipit, Meadow Pipit and even Red-throated Pipit have all been mentioned.

It though seems that consensus now is that the bird is an aberrant Meadow Pipit. What seems to rule out both Rock Pipit and Water Pipit is the very distinct streaking to the crown, mantle and also the pattern of the streaking to the underparts.


Although rather similar aberrant Meadow Pipits have been described previously (e.g. Birding World vol. 18 no. 4, 2005) the dark legs and bill, the orangey/yellowish throat and upper breast, the very large white supercilium and the greyish ear coverts, neck and scapulars makes this bird very deviant.

Comments on the ID are of course very much appreciated as are links to other similar aberrant Meadow Pipits.

Best wishes,

Rune Sø Neergaard, Aalborg, Denmark


Bizarre Photo Opportunity


Gull, Tyre and Gargoyle combo 

On an inaccessible limestone stack.

Yep, sometimes it’s just bizarre. Out walking the north cliffs of Flamborough the other day, I picked up this ringed adult Herring Gull. Off the top of my head I think such orange rings come from birds trapped in the Scarborough area. Being a little distant I though it a good digiscoping opportunity. How well could the ring be read and photographed?

No problem even at considerable distance. However seemingly more incredible was how did a tyre and devilish gargoyle make it up this inaccessible stack? Did someone really climb it?

I have since found out how they got there…

d stackHere’s the stack in the middle of a pretty tumultuous sea scape at Breil Nook, Flamborough. It’s possible to see some Herring Gulls (little white flecks) on the stack

c stackA little closer and the subject is just visible at the top of the stack bang on the shadow line; the dark curve of the tyre just discernible.

digiscoping view……………………Here’s the view from the digiscoper’s perspective, at the cliff top

b Herring Gull stackHere’s the bizarre scene. Herring Gull, Tyre and Gargoyle. I know how the gull got there but do you know how the other 2 items ended up perched atop an inaccessible rock?

a ring readingand here’s what can be done with a bit of practice and the right gear. Have to say my camera settings (Canon s95) were much improved by highly skilled Steve Blain going at the settings in a manner reminiscent of a  Rubix cube champion. The photo is a but grainy but not bad! I know others familiar with digiscoping won’t be surprised at such details but I still find it pretty amazing when I think back to results obtained with my start-up Olympus SLR and Tokina mirror lens…

rock pip 1rock pip 2and in nearby cliff top fields this Rock Pipit could have been a Scandinavia littoralis but low evening sun corrupting colours and trickiness of some birds at this time of year left me equivocal.