Just before the weekend, a rare transatlantic vagrant – a Buff-bellied Pipit – had been found feeding around the banks of the Queen Mother Reservoir in Berkshire/west London, under the flightpath of the many planes coming and going from Heathrow Airport (including those crossing the Atlantic!).
This species, which has previously been treated as conspecific with Rock and Water Pipit before the three were ‘split’ and each considered full species in their own right some years ago, was one I had never seen before, so with one so close (and arrangements in place to allow access to the permit only site it had chosen) I couldn’t resist the temptation.
We were watching the pipit almost immediately upon arrival, as it fed completely unconcerned almost at the feet of the appreciative birdwatchers gathered to see it.
It was remarkably tame and as long as there were no sudden movements would walk right past the small crowd, well within the minimum focus distance of most peoples cameras and binoculars – there was definitely no need for a telescope.
At first the pipit was in the sun on almost bare concrete at the edge of the reservoir...
In appearance Buff-bellied Pipit is somewhat intermediate between Rock Pipit and Meadow Pipit, with the dark legs and longish bill of Rock (and Water) Pipits, but with the bill having the finer, more pointed appearance more typical of Meadow Pipit. Some aspects of the plumage, in particular the well defined dark streaking on the buff toned underparts , are also reminiscent of Meadow Pipit – while the head and upperpart patterns are more like those of Rock & Water Pipits!
...but most of the time it was feeding on mossy ground in the shelter of the walled banks around the top of the reservoir - which unfortunately meant it was in shadow.
Apart from Pied Wagtails and Grey Wagtails sharing the banks, and a few Great Crested Grebes on the water, very few other birds were seen, although this was largely due to the fact that we were concentrating on the pipit! My brother did manage to pick out the Red-necked Grebe that had been present – although distantly. A Long-tailed Duck has also been present, but we didn’t manage to find that with a brief scan.