Category Archives: a) Pipits

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.

Frontier Birding Israel style

Still haven’t purchased a proper sound-recording system, but with my phone (Samsung Galaxy S2) I manage to get semi-decent recordings of close birds.

Here are some of my adventures in recent weeks:

On February 9th I had a picnic with my family in a small wood behind my house, which is at Nir Moshe, in the northern Negev. I heard the familiar call of a Hume’s Warbler – ‘chu-wit’. The bird was calling really intensively, but I was unable to see the bird. I did get this recording which enabled me to identify the bird without seeing it. However a few days later I managed to ring the bird.


A couple of weeks earlier, on January 21st, I walked with my younger son in the same wood near my house. I had a pipit calling from a tall eucalyptus. I didn’t have my bins with me but had my phone – again managed to record the bird, and after consulting with MG concluded it was an Olive-backed Pipit. This is what Martin wrote to me after listening to the awful recording: “The pitch reaches up to 8 kHz and has fading quality to it – just like an OBP. Tree Pipit pitches around 7 kHz and has strongly modulated end with less fading”. Thanks Martin.

Olive-backed Pipit Israel 21 January 2013 Yoav PerlmanThis image was taken in November 2012 – quite a few birds overwintering in Israel. This is from Elkana.

Olive-backed Pipit

Pipits, Pipits, Pipits

Shetland, Autumn 2012

You never know what’s wandering through the long grass… This is an Olive- backed Pipit which gave wonderfully close views in Hestingott, South Mainland on our first morning.

Never the same. I look forward to each autumn on Shetland. Because you never know…This year the weather was tough but the Shetland Nature groups tougher (really!). You ask ‘em. We had a lot of fun. highlights for both groups seem to be, in no particular order:

  • The hunt – the chance to work as a team, hunting and finding our own rarities
  • Sharing in pioneering ID discoveries – live!
  • Seeing a host of really rare birds
  • Having a whole island to ourselves
  • Keeping our lively lists from trip totals to ‘seen from the van’
  • Gaining experience of bird families like many types of pipits or almost ‘all the redpolls’
  • Unbeatable moments like finding Yellow-browed and Barred Warbler in lashing rain or when a Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll landing on our van

Pipits were well represented  in autumn 2012.

My first morning with RR at the south end. Whatever lies ahead on a Shetland birding experience – it always comes good!

Soon after leaving Sumburgh head we found this Olive- backed Pipit at Quendale (more here). Having thoroughly thrashed around Quendale Burn we briefly each saw ‘bounding pipit’ on the return leg. My view was better- flying away, no call. Surely a ‘Richard’s type’ but not enough. A Richard’s Pipit was found 2 days later in the same area by Dave Fairhurst…

to compare with the soft pastel tones of the Olive-backed, the occasional Tree Pipit helped our learning both plumage and calls. this one was at Valyie, Unst.

One of the ‘top’ rarities this year was this Pechora Pipit which all of the first group saw well at Norwick, Unst. Photos by jammy finder (it was meant for us!) and Unst resident, Mike Pennington.

Making up for last year’s wounds Roger R. went a found a Buff-bellied Pipit on Rerwick Beach, which took us a couple of goes, but we finally got it. guys very happy after new bird, well seen, and without hoards of other birders.

Less buttery and more beautiful rich peachy-buff underneath: Buff-bellied Pipit. More on Roger’s find here

Buff-bellied Pipit on Rerwick Beach. Roger’s text began with the word ‘BOOM’! No wonder.

A special day (all alone) on Fetlar, got us a couple of very nice finds including a Richard’s Pipit. Seen and (just about) heard briefly just before we had to dash for the boat, we opted to return and secure the ID. Part of the challenge of ‘the hunt’.

Richard’s Pipit, Houbie, Fetlar, October 2012. We then went on and found another Richard’s Pipit at Norwick, Unst a couple of days later. Cookin!

Tree Pipit again. not so rare but always good to see.

Full pipit tally: Meadow, Tree, Rock, Olive-backed (2), Richard’s (2-3), Pechora and Buff-bellied. Not bad!

Below: maybe we will find one of these in 2013? Do you know what it is?