• Welcome to BirdForum, the internet's largest birding community with thousands of members from all over the world. The forums are dedicated to wild birds, birding, binoculars and equipment and all that goes with it.

    Please register for an account to take part in the discussions in the forum, post your pictures in the gallery and more.
Feel the intensity, not your equipment. Maximum image quality. Minimum weight. The new ZEISS SFL, up to 30% less weight than comparable competitors.

Pipit - Breydon Water, UK (1 Viewer)

UKBirder23

Well-known member
Hello everyone,

Tricky question today, as it concerns pipits and I have no photos! So I was at Breydon Water in Norfolk yesterday afternoon with fellow birders (my mum and sister, to be precise), and saw two pipits, although one of them disappeared quite early in the proceedings. I've never seen any sort of pipit before, and my initital thought was that it was rather similar to a Dunnock, only bigger. Something in the nature of a skylark as well but obviously not one. Seeing it from the back, which was a fairly uniform medium brown colour with streaks running down the mantle, I then thought of warblers. It had two white wing bars and white on the outsides of the tail. By this point I had realised it was a pipit, but what pipit? Its character was very shy. It wouldn't let us get closer than about twenty feet, if that, and then it would fly off with its bouncing flight, quite low, and land about sixty feet away. Sadly I could not get a good look at the leg colour - the light was poor and it was always standing in the mud on the very edge of the shoreline. I assume the legs were brown or greyish- if they had been light or coloured I think I would have been able to see them. When sitting, it did not move its tail that I noticed. The main one that we watched did not seem to have a white eye stripe, although it did have a light eye ring. The first one I saw, which then disappeared, gave the impression of a brown patch on its cheek, which tells me that it did have a white eye stripe. I did get one look from the front, and thought that it had very striking brown stripes down the front. Nowhere else on the bird was its marking so striking, apart from the thin wing bars.
So... Meadow, Rock or Water? We think it was too big, and overall not strikingly marked enough, and too light of brown, and perhaps not in the most likely location, to be a Meadow Pipit. My mum and sister are convinced it was a Water Pipit. They are better at ID'ing birds than I am, but I'm sceptical because Water Pipits are the rarest of the three. Still, Breydon Water has always been kind to us, last time we were there for about ten minutes and saw a Bittern and a Spoonbill.
Any thoughts at all? Or perhaps, did any more experienced birder see any pipits at Breydon Water yesterday?
Thank you in advance for any help, and sorry for asking such a tricky question!
 
Last edited:

Joern Lehmhus

Well-known member
well, meadow pipit is the smallest of the 3 mentioned...

I don´t think the bird is safely identifiable from your description , but I do not see anything clearly speaking against Meadow pipit, in hindsight of the poor light you mention
 

UKBirder23

Well-known member
well, meadow pipit is the smallest of the 3 mentioned...

I don´t think the bird is safely identifiable from your description , but I do not see anything clearly speaking against Meadow pipit, in hindsight of the poor light you mention
Sorry, that was a typo, I meant to say the bird we saw was too big for a Meadow Pipit, not too small. It was noticeably larger than a Dunnock.
 

UKBirder23

Well-known member
A very useful point would be if it made any call when alarmed and took flight.
It did, yes, thanks for reminding me. We've just now listened to the flight call of Rock, Water and Meadow Pipits. The Meadow Pipit is the least similar. Hard to tell between Rock and Water, although again just leaning towards Water.
 

Butty

Well-known member
Seriously... It is just impossible to judge the size of a bird when it's on its own, even if all of you agreed about it. This is a hard and difficult lesson to learn but it's a really important one.
 
Butty is correct - you say that all 3 of you agreed on its size but compared to what?

If you saw a man on a beach alone would you easily be able to gauge his height?

A bird's behaviour, calls and markings offer better evidence for an id when size is difficult to judge.
 

UKBirder23

Well-known member
Butty is correct - you say that all 3 of you agreed on its size but compared to what?

If you saw a man on a beach alone would you easily be able to gauge his height?

A bird's behaviour, calls and markings offer better evidence for an id when size is difficult to judge.
Thanks. However, I have just remembered that the bird wasn't alone the whole time! I'd forgotten that a pair of Greenfinches showed up at the end. So I can say, with safety, that it was a bit larger and definitely chunkier than a Greenfinch.
One question I have is just how uncommon are Water Pipits? From the observations I made at the time I would have said it was a Water Pipit for certain except that I know that it is an uncommon species compared to the other two.
I should point out as well that as I've never seen any kind of pipit before I'd be just as happy with any of them. All I care about is getting a positive ID. :)
 

Butty

Well-known member
All I care about is getting a positive ID
I fear there's just no chance of this - there is too much in your description that is conflicting (e.g. all pipits you're likely to see are less chunky than a greenfinch). Pipits are tricky - you will always find them tricky - and it's completely unsurprising not to identify the first one you see.
My advice is simply to seek out more pipits, gain more experience, get more comfortable with them (especially with meadow pipits - they're the baseline bird), and... (very very importantly) do it with a field guide in your free hand.
 

UKBirder23

Well-known member
I fear there's just no chance of this - there is too much in your description that is conflicting (e.g. all pipits you're likely to see are less chunky than a greenfinch). Pipits are tricky - you will always find them tricky - and it's completely unsurprising not to identify the first one you see.
My advice is simply to seek out more pipits, gain more experience, get more comfortable with them (especially with meadow pipits - they're the baseline bird), and... (very very importantly) do it with a field guide in your free hand.
Thank you. I was afraid from the start that a positive ID would be almost impossible. Sadly I did have a field guide in my hand but even that didn't help!
Having done quite a bit of research between yesterday and today, I'm almost certain it was not a Meadow Pipit, but whether it was Rock or Water is something that may have to be left as forever unknown! Thank you all for your help though.
On a positive note: prior to the arrival of the pipit, I saw my first Black-tailed Godwits on the mudflats, so still a good day!
 

PaulCountyDurham

Well-known member
United Kingdom
Hello everyone,

Tricky question today, as it concerns pipits and I have no photos! So I was at Breydon Water in Norfolk yesterday afternoon with fellow birders (my mum and sister, to be precise), and saw two pipits, although one of them disappeared quite early in the proceedings. I've never seen any sort of pipit before, and my initital thought was that it was rather similar to a Dunnock, only bigger. Something in the nature of a skylark as well but obviously not one. Seeing it from the back, which was a fairly uniform medium brown colour with streaks running down the mantle, I then thought of warblers. It had two white wing bars and white on the outsides of the tail. By this point I had realised it was a pipit, but what pipit? Its character was very shy. It wouldn't let us get closer than about twenty feet, if that, and then it would fly off with its bouncing flight, quite low, and land about sixty feet away. Sadly I could not get a good look at the leg colour - the light was poor and it was always standing in the mud on the very edge of the shoreline. I assume the legs were brown or greyish- if they had been light or coloured I think I would have been able to see them. When sitting, it did not move its tail that I noticed. The main one that we watched did not seem to have a white eye stripe, although it did have a light eye ring. The first one I saw, which then disappeared, gave the impression of a brown patch on its cheek, which tells me that it did have a white eye stripe. I did get one look from the front, and thought that it had very striking brown stripes down the front. Nowhere else on the bird was its marking so striking, apart from the thin wing bars.
So... Meadow, Rock or Water? We think it was too big, and overall not strikingly marked enough, and too light of brown, and perhaps not in the most likely location, to be a Meadow Pipit. My mum and sister are convinced it was a Water Pipit. They are better at ID'ing birds than I am, but I'm sceptical because Water Pipits are the rarest of the three. Still, Breydon Water has always been kind to us, last time we were there for about ten minutes and saw a Bittern and a Spoonbill.
Any thoughts at all? Or perhaps, did any more experienced birder see any pipits at Breydon Water yesterday?
Thank you in advance for any help, and sorry for asking such a tricky question!

I've tended to go to places where I see a lot of meadow pipits, and as a result I've gotten used to a couple of things that you can't necessarily see when you're not so close. The alarm call and the fact they're quite bright, smart looking birds when compared with say rock pipits. If your bird made a succession of high-pitched, soft squeaks as it flew off; then it's much more likely to be a meadow pipit than a rock pipit. If your bird had looked altogether bright, clean and smart; then again I'd say meadow pipit. You say it wouldn't let you get within 20 feet, which suggests to me you were trying and it flew off, what did it sound like as it made its way out of your direction?

Edited to add: here is a picture I took of a meadow pipit a long while back. I know their plumage changes during the seasons but I think they retain that bright appearance when compared with say a rock pipit. From what I've read, leg colour can be a red herring with these birds and is not always as it is described in the field guides. I don't think you could mistake this bird for a rock pipit, from 20 feet away.
 

Attachments

  • Meadow Pipit.jpg
    Meadow Pipit.jpg
    9.5 MB · Views: 13
Last edited:

UKBirder23

Well-known member
I've tended to go to places where I see a lot of meadow pipits, and as a result I've gotten used to a couple of things that you can't necessarily see when you're not so close. The alarm call and the fact they're quite bright, smart looking birds when compared with say rock pipits. If your bird made a succession of high-pitched, soft squeaks as it flew off; then it's much more likely to be a meadow pipit than a rock pipit. If your bird had looked altogether bright, clean and smart; then again I'd say meadow pipit. You say it wouldn't let you get within 20 feet, which suggests to me you were trying and it flew off, what did it sound like as it made its way out of your direction?

Edited to add: here is a picture I took of a meadow pipit a long while back. I know their plumage changes during the seasons but I think they retain that bright appearance when compared with say a rock pipit. From what I've read, leg colour can be a red herring with these birds and is not always as it is described in the field guides. I don't think you could mistake this bird for a rock pipit, from 20 feet away.
It only called intermittently, and it sounded more like a Rock or Water Pipit than Meadow. I think I shall just have to accept that this will remain an unconfirmed species of pipit. But thank you all for the help!
 

PaulCountyDurham

Well-known member
United Kingdom
It only called intermittently, and it sounded more like a Rock or Water Pipit than Meadow. I think I shall just have to accept that this will remain an unconfirmed species of pipit. But thank you all for the help!

Aye, I see a lot of perched birds that look unusual in some way as I'm driving along the roads but unless I have a picture I don't bother trying to established what they are, particularly as I've been caught out too many times. I once had a female reed bunting flew in on a day when the sun was strong. I see a lot of reed buntings and so knew exactly what they look like. This bird looked all white, trick of the light, I was taking pictures of it as it was perched in a small tree and I still didn't realise it was a female reed bunting; and if asked I would have said not a chance. When I zoomed in to the pictures, it was obvious then it was female reed bunting. Similarly, I was once standing right next to a tree and unknown to me a female kestrel was in it, and she couldn't see me as she was faced the other way behind a branch. The bird flew out of the tree and it looked massive. If asked I would have said never in a million years a kestrel: too big. It circled around and came closer, and of course it was a female kestrel. When I reflected upon that, and asked myself why I didn't initially recognise the bird as a kestrel, well, it was obvious that I am never standing a couple of feet away from a flying female kestrel and so I had no experience of how big its wingspan would look at such close range. I was driving along the road the other day and a bird was perched on top of a post, everything about it suggested female kestrel, including its hunched gait looking down to the floor: but it looked massive. I had to put it down as a female kestrel because again, how often am I right underneath a perched kestrel? It would have looked bigger than usual in that moment.

Having said all of that, I wouldn't agree that an estimation of size is always unreliable. I think it depends on your experience of when you have seen birds and at what distance. I'm pretty confident I could tell you a redwing from a fieldfare, for example, at quite a distance; the reason being that I see those birds regularly from a distance and so I have a reference point in my mind. Using the female kestrel as an example, if you have little of experience of being a couple of feet away from a flying kestrel or being right underneath one, and your usual experience is seeing them at a distance; then of course they are going to look bigger than usual when you are so close and you have nothing in your mind, from your past experience, as a reference point.

As you heard the call, then I reckon you can comfortably make a distinction between a meadow pipit and a rock pipit. I'm not sure what you mean by intermittently in this context, but in simplistic terms rock pipits have a stronger voice and they don't tend to make anywhere near as many squeaks as a meadow pipit.
 

Rotherbirder

Well-known member
One might ask, if the OP has not seen any kind of pipit before (see post 11), how can he be sure that it sounded more like a Rock or Water than a Meadow (see post 18), or am I just being pedantic?!

RB
 

Users who are viewing this thread

Top