Thursday, 13 December 2012

London's first Buff-bellied Pipit

Buff-bellied Pipit at Queen Mother Reservoir today. Like all British (but not European) records of the species, this bird is of the nominate North American subspecies rubescens.
I was about 130 miles away when news broke today of a Buff-bellied Pipit on the edge of London, at Queen Mother Reservoir - a site with restricted access. The omens weren't good, especially as the bird hadn't been seen for several hours by the time I arrived back from Suffolk early afternoon. But you won't see anything if you don't try, and persistence eventually paid off - well done to Bob Watts for relocating this mega American vagrant, which showed well for the next 90 minutes feeding hyperactively along the water's edge and eventually proving very confiding. Day permits were hastily made available for the bargain price of £2 by the Berkshire Bird Club, and all credit also to Michael McKee for finding the bird in the first place and facilitating access.


Queen Mother Reservoir is in Berkshire, and also partly in the London Natural History Society recording area. The latter is a 20-mile radius from St Paul's Cathedral, and I measured the boundary precisely on Google maps to ascertain exactly which part of the reservoir is within the LNHS area. The short answer is most of it, except the far western side; the Buff-bellied Pipit was on the eastern side, and so it is certainly a first record for London.



There has been a significant and sudden rise in the number of Buff-bellied Pipits recorded in Britain in recent years, with 10 of the 27 records accepted to the end of 2011 occurring in 2010-11 alone, as against just four records prior to 2005 (British Birds 104: 619 and 105: 613-614). In Iceland, where there are very few active observers (apparently fewer than 30 or so), this species has a better long-term track record with nine accepted records up to the end of 2006. When I was there in October last year I went to twitch a Buff-bellied Pipit and found another one at the same site. Subsequently, I think a third individual was also discovered there, and my recollection is that these weren't the only records in Iceland last autumn. Perhaps we in Britain are now experiencing the same phenomenon that has brought this species more regularly to Iceland in the past. Alternatively, perhaps it is just better observer awareness of the species' field characters.


3 comments:

  1. Great photos Dominic. Hope it sticks around until next week. Unlikely it will still be around but if it is I'd like to pay a visit (so long as I can get a permit). That and the Redpoll are on my list!

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  2. Nice stuff Dom. I hope to see a piece in Birdwatch with some good ID pointers. It might have been passed over as a "littoralis" Rock Pipit with just a brief view. Well done to Michael McKee.
    Tony

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