Sunday, 14 December 2014

Blyth's Pipit, Calder Wetlands, Wakefield, West Yorkshire - 10th December 2014

Well now, this turning up (and me seeing it) was a bit of a surprise. And if it was a surprise to me, it must have been a heart-attack-inducing shock for the finder Jonathan Holliday. An amazing find in many ways, and by a clearly talented, dedicated birder. Praise from me probably doesn't count for much, but well done sir.

Read Jonny's account of finding this bird on RBA's website. Proper rarity finding. The news what put out promptly on the day (8th December at 11:49 on BirdGuides), and I was at home only 45 minutes away! But, I was working-from-home while looking after my poorly 9-year-old daughter, plus I had an emergency dentist appointment in the afternoon. So surely no Blyth's for me.

The general feeling was if this bird stayed overnight it might stay for a while, assuming it was flushed to frequently and aggressively. It did stay another day, and plenty of birders got to see it, but I couldn't get there until Wednesday 10th.

 There's a Blyth's Pipit somewhere in there...

I arrived around 07:45 (I had to do this then get to work), to a deserted site. The bird had been found in a flooded area of scrub on an industrial estate, due to be built on. I watched a Kestrel quarter the field in the half-light, occasionally hovering, and I wondered (predictably) if the Blyth's had succumbed to predation since it was last seen the previous afternoon.

By 08:00 three others had arrived, including the helpful John McLoughlin. The sun was up sufficiently high to allow for the identification for LBJs, and John lead those birders with the foresight to bring wellies out across the field. Around ten Meadow Pipits flew up before the Blyth's Pipit came up, landing a few metres from where it first appeared. The bird was slightly bigger than the accompanying Meadow Pipits and appeared to have a longer tail, although this was probably accentuated by the fact the tail was ragged and drooping. This tail damage had been noted by the finder and others, and so helped with our initial identification.

The bird flew on again - without being flushed - and this time it did its diagnostic call: a quick, clear "shwee-oo". I've heard Richard's Pipit call (making a clear "shreeeep" sound) as they fly over, and this was quite different. 

More birders arrived and fortunately for them the bird flew on again, but this time making a "pip pip" call, and quickly landed. Very soon after (again, without any flushing) it flew up and bobbed around in the air not far from where I stood, as the Meadow Pipits grouped together and landed elsewhere. It hovered in the air, lingering much longer than the Meadow Pipits. From my vantage point, the low sun lit up the Blyth's from the side and the unstreaked flanks where obvious. Again, it appeared somewhat larger than the Meadows, and was clearly paler overall too.

Satisfied, I left the site around 08:50. I'm really glad to hear the bird has stayed around for a few more days (until 14th December, as I write). Also, many people were now getting views without any flushing of the bird, which lead the finder and locals to stop organised flushes. 

A nice bird, a real winter treat for twitchers, and a deserved first-for-Yorkshire for the finder Jonny.

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