SATURDAY 17 OCTOBER
In what has been an exceptional autumn for this species at the reservoirs, with at least six individuals involved, THREE were recorded yesterday afternoon.
Roy Hargreaves alerted us all to the presence of two birds early in the afternoon, after he watched both birds feeding close to the Jetty on the east side of the reservoir. Dave Bilcock was quick on the scene and located the third bird in exactly the same area. Fifteen minutes later and Mike Campbell and I joined DB, the two birds being quickly located halfway along the East Bank. They were typically mobile being regularly shifted from pillar to post by an array of fishermen, dog walkers, general public on the mud and joggers. Fortunately, in a moment of quietness, the three of us enjoyed excellent views for five minutes as the two fed in the NE corner, eeking out Craneflies and other grubs from the scant vegetation growing out of the concrete bank.
The third bird had been flushed and had flown out on to the central muddy ridge out from the spit but after the two birds keeping close together had been additionally flushed again and had flown off east towards the fields, I relocated the singleton showing fantastically at just 25 yards range in the bay just south of the jetty.
The amount of variation in this autumn's Rock Pipits at Wilstone has been remarkable, with the initial long-staying bird of a few weeks back having just a pale eye-ring. Yesterday's three individuals all had an invariable amount of white on the lores and above the eye. One was particularly well-marked with quite an obvious whitish supercilium, whilst the other two had just like a short arc of white behind the eye and a diffuse line to the bill. The amount of dark 'washing' on the underparts is very variable between individuals too, but generally brownish in colour (beneath the noticeable streaking, particularly down towards the flanks). All three birds were very white on the lower vent and undertail-coverts.
The bill colour of all three birds was near-identical, being predominantly dark but with some warmth to the lower mandible. They also shared the dark brown leg colour.
It was virtually impossible to see the critical outer tail feather pattern (enabling unequivocal separation of autumn littoralis from petrosus) and the intrinsic variation that exists between both adults and first-winters of all of the pipit species further complicates the matter of racial identification. However, of all inland birds trapped or seen tail-stretching, all have been undoubted littoralis and I remain of the opinion that it is only Scandinavian birds that are undertaking this annual overland migration to wintering grounds in NW France and in the SW of Britain.
Wilstone Reservoir last night also yielded a juvenile DUNLIN and 2 RINGED PLOVERS as well as my first winter thrushes - 30 REDWING, 3 Song Thrush and 7 Continental Common Blackbirds being present in the small Poplar wood on the east bank towards dusk