20 November 2014


Pale lores, lack of flank streaking.

I decided to take advantage of the sunny conditions and light easterly winds on the 18th after what seemed like days of rain and rough weather and get out to the Head. I wasn't expecting much so left my camera behind and decided to just enjoy the walk. My carefree stroll ended when I saw a large Pipit fly from somewhere near the path at the Kissing Gate, and out toward the cliff edge. I headed after it but got too close before I saw it on the short-cropped grass and it was off again, over the cliff edge and along out of sight. This time it called two or three times in flight and that pulled me up short. I was expecting a Richard's but the call was nothing like normal Richard's; instead it was a soft, seemingly lower-pitched 'schuup schuup' having none of the piercing, house-sparrow-like quality I would have expected. And what's more that describes all of the 20+ calls it gave through the day; it was amazingly consistent and never sounded like typical Richard's. Of course Richard's can give atypical calls but  I was doing a lot of thinking now and headed along the cliff, working along more slowly so as not to put it up again. 

Supercilium restricted behind eye, no ear covert 'surround'. Relatively short-tailed
 (tail similar length as tertials), horizontal stance.

The area has lots of gorse, bramble and bracken with horse-made paths throughout, the bird liked these paths and also the cliff-top and grassy ledges. It made it difficult to watch for more than a few seconds at a time before it was hidden and it often then appeared closer than expected and was flying off again.  

Pale lores 'Pointy bill, relatively short, lacking strongly-curved culmen.
Neat back/mantle streaking

I found the bird and started to gather impressions. It was clearly a large Pipit, looking pale, particularly below, with a neat gorget of streaks. Then it was off again, calling once more. To go along with the call though I was starting to be left with the impression of a bird that was not what I expected for Richard's, ie not particularly long or heavy-billed, not particularly long-tailed, not particularly long-legged or with a notable upright posture - not especially robust and with the 'feel' of a smaller Pipit. By now alarm bells were ringing - I remember being part of discussions along just those lines when Tim Wright found the 1996 Sheringham bird. It couldn't be could it? I began to panic slightly, I had no scope or camera and the views I was getting with bins were challenging thus far. I put out the news locally of an interesting Pipit, Blyth's or Richard's. But this is Pembrokeshire and it was likely to be a long and frustrating wait at best and probably no-one would turn up. I was really pleased, therefore, to spy Bob and Annie Haycock approaching, on their way to do a marine bird survey. Bob had a camera and scope and though the latter proved a bit useless in the circumstances, the camera gave hope of capturing some important details needed to confirm the id, if as I was beginning to suspect, it was a Blyth's. 

Short, evenly-curved hind claw

We approached the area where the Pipit had dropped down but it wasn't there, instead it called a couple of times somewhere behind us, clearly in flight again. Forty minutes later still no sign and Bob and Annie had to get out surveying, having only heard the bird. Bob agreed with me that it was a call quite unlike normal Richard's and we've seen about 30 between us and found maybe 20. It was a depressing time, trudging around every bit of path, checking every square metre of cliff. And what a relief when it flew in from the east along the cliff-top calling like the wonderful eastern gem it was. I saw it really well on the rocks for a while and then it was back to hide and seek. I realised I needed Bob and his camera and with no phone signal it meant a twenty minute walk out to the watchpoint and back. Luckily Annie agreed to hold the fort while Bob returned with me. And then we spent three hours or so getting more and sometimes better views, Bob got some shots, the bird disappeared for quite long spells etc. It was exhausting but as the possibility of Blyth's grew, bloody exciting too. I was able to contact Kathy and she made her way out to us, bringing my camera. The bird hadn't been seen for half an hour when she arrived and the sun was low over the sea, giving a harsh light, we didn't have long left. Luckily, especially for Kathy, the bird immediately appeared on a path in front and I shot off a load of photos. I had about three or four minutes and all the pics here are from that short burst because a very short while later the sun was gone, the bird had disappeared and we were realising how cold and hungry we were. But what a magical day in a magical place with a magical bird. 

Replaced Blyth's-type median covert, neat crown streaking