Having been pleased to add Blyth’s Pipit to my life list four days ago, I decided also to have a look at this very similar bird. I went to a site by the Severn estuary just to the south-west of Gloucester with a vague idea of assessing how much difference I could detect between the two. But my prime motivation was just being out and about, not too far from home (66 miles) on what was a beautiful, clear mid-winter’s day.
Arriving mid-morning and parking short of some farm buildings (SO709119) I set off along a right of way through a muddy farm yard then onward to a flood defence embankment. Being alone, finding the bird seemed like a challenge and Meadow Pipits began to fly up from either side of the earthwork that I hoped would be a harbinger of something scarcer. Before me stretched a restful landscape of subtle purple, ochre and green hues (pictured below) all in a hazy light. It was low tide. Here and there busy little Stonechat adorned fence posts and wires, while more commonplace Chaffinch and Dunnock went about their own business.
And so I took a little time to luxuriate in being somewhere new, different and this pleasant. The directions on RBA cited a narrow rough field in which was a mistletoe covered hawthorn. This (below) looked like the spot and there ahead of me were three more birders clearly observing something in the greener area between me and themselves. Scanning to where the right hand person was looking I found a bird of the right shape and jizz. Not such a challenge after all then!
The other birders now walked on ahead of me and I followed. As I caught up with them a bird went up out of long grass and over our heads, emitting a rasping chree-up call. This was definitely not a Mipit but indeed my bird for today. The call of Richard’s Pipit is also a key indicator, since upon referral to my favoured Helm guide I find that Blyth’s has several quieter and softer ones. The RP then settled briefly to the landward side of the flood defence, before crossing over and feeding in the short-cropped green area.
Now we crept up on the blind side of the embankment, before peeping over the top and watching the bird moving slowly away. The feeding action at once struck me as being less energetic than last Thursday’s Blyth’s. As I had recalled from my two previous sightings of Richard’s, today’s bird appeared a little darker-toned and the likewise reddish legs seemed of less super model proportions. The record images (below) do not reveal too much, but as always show at least that I am not making this story up. For a good one captured at a later date see here.
I then walked away to put the sighting on RBA and when I re-joined my companions they said the Pipit had moved into longer grass along the river’s edge. It remained out of sight for around 30 minutes before reappearing some distance towards the farm buildings. That was the direction in which I needed to head, and so I began to walk back. The RP was now keeping to the far side of the green area and it could have been a long wait for the bird to come closer for a decent photograph. And so, with things still to do at home I left.
So just how much variation could I detect between these two larger, wintering Pipits? I will not attempt to go into plumage topography since I am not knowledgeable enough to do so and in any case that bores me. But I have to agree with the Helm guide’s assertion that in the absence of obvious diagnostics the two just appear distinctly different in the field. The most important thing of all was that my third Richard’s Pipit had cleansed my weary dark-season soul a little by giving purpose to a quite refreshing morning out.