Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Iceland: days 3-4

The second Buff-bellied Pipit at Garður in as many days.
I started early on Sunday – too early for breakfast at the hotel, but I wanted to get back to Garður early doors and look again for the Buff-bellied Pipit and Pacific Golden Plover. Anyhow, after last night’s disappointing curry in Reykjavik, I wasn’t especially hungry. So with just cloud, wind and rain for company, I headed back out to the Reykjanes Peninsula and took up position on the edge of the marsh where I’d glimpsed the Buff-bellied yesterday.

Note the distinct lack of buff! This is not, apparently, a problem in nominate rubescens ...
Bang on cue, a pipit flew in, calling tantalisingly. I grabbed the camera and focused; it looked good for Buff-bellied, and I began firing off record shots. I assumed it must be the original bird, as it was at exactly the same spot, though even through the viewfinder it seemed paler underneath than I remembered, and also rather well marked on the head and breast.

Note the largely whitish underparts and supercilium, and the heavy blackish upper breast streaking.
The discrepancy between the bird’s apparent features on different days was explained later that morning when two Buff-bellieds were seen together there by a friend of Edward's, one of them being described as 'odd looking'. The underparts of the new bird, as can be seen here, are actually rather whitish, with any buff tones restricted to a couple of blotches on the flanks/breast-sides; additionally, the streaking is heavy on the upper breast, the dark marks coalescing to form not only dark blotches at the sides of the throat, but almost a gorget. The supercilium is also rather creamy-whitish, especially above and behind the eye.

In these respects at least, the bird appears more similar to some illustrations of japonicus Buff-bellied Pipit from Asia (or even Water Pipit) than it does to typical nominate rubescens from North America, but I guessed that perhaps the latter was more variable than I had realised. This was confirmed by Killian Mullarney, who on viewing my pics helpfully commented: “I have no doubt that your bird is a rubescens. It seems to be the case that rubescens in much more variable than is generally indicated in the ID literature, with some being much darker and more heavily marked on the underparts than the lighter and finely streaked type … It also seems that some are a lot more similar to japonicus than we might like.” US-based Luke Tiller also kindly confirmed the ID as Buff-bellied.

It was good to have the find verified, though interestingly – as this double occurrence indicates – the species is less of a mega-rarity in Iceland than it is in Britain (with so many more observers in the UK, how many must we be overlooking?). Amazingly, I heard later that Yann Kolbeinsson had three Buff-bellieds at the site on Monday – no wonder Edward refers to Garður as ‘Buff-bellied alley’!

Almost monochrome in appearance, this American Golden Plover stands out from the European crowd.
The Blue-winged Teal finally gives away its hiding place.
After that the pace slowed somewhat, and though it was seen by others early on I could not relocate the Pacific Golden Plover anywhere among the thousands of European Goldens (though two American Goldies were again some reward for the effort); as I understand it, nor did anyone else see this Icelandic first subsequently. After Garður I called in at Sangerdi and finally dug out the long-staying Blue-winged Teal lurking in a dense marsh with Mallards, then returned to Njardvik where one of the American Wigeon was still visible.

Presumed islandica Common Redpoll: there is ongoing debate about the status of Iceland's redpoll taxa.
Several redpolls in a nearby plantation were an interesting diversion (and worthy of a detailed post of their own, if I ever get the time), while back in the Reykjavik area I twitched a late Garganey, and in doing so found the second juvenile Curlew Sandpiper of the trip – not usually a headline bird, except that over tapas with Edward that evening I learned the species is an official rarity in Iceland and descriptions are required. It’s all about context, I guess.

Day 4 can be summed up in one word: travel. An early departure allowed for no birding on the Monday morning before flying back to Gatwick, but on arrival back home it turned out that my quest for Yank vagrants over the long weekend wasn’t quite over …

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