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Rock or meadow pipit? (1 Viewer)

louise S

Active member
Sweden
Hello,

I'm still pretty new at this - for pipits, I tend to use the rule of light-coloured legs + mostly white, cleanly streaked breast = meadow pipit, and black legs + muddy breast streaks = rock pipit. For this one though, it looks to me like a rock pipit with meadow pipit legs. My overall guess is rock, I think?

This might be an easy one if you've done this more than I have! What do you think this might be?

Thanks :)

1611003556465.png
 

Alexander Stöhr

Well-known member
I hope, this doesnt lead you in the wrong direction:, but my experience with leg colour of Rock and Meadow Pipiz is:
allthough there is variation and a slight overlap, leg colour is often a useful hint adding to the jizz in close or medium distant birds:

while Rock Pipit can have quite pale legs regular, there is in most a dark/muddy-grey, dark reddish-brown or dark brow colour shining through.
This impression is rarely given by Meadow Pipits wih darkish legs.
And of course some Rock Pipit have dark, nearly blackish legs wit just a slight brownish/reddish tinge. I have yet to see a Meadow Pipit with real black legs. Have you?

While leg colour is more variable in this species, many Meadow Pipit have a leg colour, that is outside of variation for Rock Pipit: clear and bright colours ranging from yellow-orange to orange or pale (orange or yellowish) flesh. At the extreme end of variation, this is a good pointer against a Rock (or Water) Pipit even on distant birds.

I looked for hard pictures to illustrate this:
https://www.birdspot.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/meadow-pipit-1.jpg Meadow Pipit with idunfriendly, but still "clear, almost transparent" leg-colour)
http://www.worldbirds.co.uk/meadow_pipit.aspx?key=102 (Rock Pipit with pale, but still muddy/dirty underlay looking)
http://www.oiseaux-birds.com/passeriformes/motacillides/pipit-farlouse/pipit-farlouse-nb1.jpg (dirty looking, but colour=reddish-flesh is outside of variation for Rock Pipit)
https://www.naturephoto-cz.com/photos/mraz/meadow-pipit-27x_18a280.jpg (please note clean colour of thiss Meadow)
https://www.dreamstime.com/close-up...close-up-meadow-pipit-foraging-image129750204 (clear and transparent legs)
https://www.imago-images.de/bild/st/0095755046/w.jpg (hard Meadow Pipit)

https://img.fotocommunity.com/strandpieper-51b0dd9a-6fd4-4011-a9ee-446d908ca050.jpg?height=1080 (Rock Pipit with the right dark shining through)

Caveats:
this isnt usefull in very young, not fully grown birds, for an example here see: https://naturfotografen-forum.de/o93288-Strandpieper
https://www.birdforum.net/threads/rock-pipit-outer-hebrides.388862/ (strong backlit enhances transparent clear leg colour in the juvenile bird, adult has pale, but still dark hue shining throgh)
Yes, there is the possibility of a Rock Pipit with pigmentation defiency, (I have never seen one).
Low back light can shine through the legs and they appear paler and transparent orange-flesh, even in dark legged birds. Thank you again at Deb, who mentioned this to me in another thread (plae legged Chiffchaff). This isnt normally a pitfall in he field,, because you are aware of this and your brain seems to do some autocorrection or alert. But it is a trap in a picture.

Conclusion? I wouldnt dismiss leg colour when sepereating Meadow and Rock Pipits. Although there is overlap, many birds have a leg colour that is extremly rare or out of variation for the other species. The different shades are subtle, but helpfull with experience.
I hope this helpful, Louise, in gaining your own field experience!
 

Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe
Just to add to Alex’s incredibly thorough treatise on leg colour above - ( that’s a lot there Alex 😉!)

I would probably sum up differences between the two species as follows and use as many features as you can to arrive at an ID - it’s always a little difficult giving comparative id features because they won’t make much sense until you are familiar with both species but hopefully some may have stuck in your mind when you next see a Rock/Meadow Pipit!

Meadow

  • Distinct streaks on a pale ground colour on breast and flanks of equal width
  • pale throat less distinct than Rock
  • cream eye ring
  • fine pointed bill slightly paler
  • Pale (pellucid almost) orange/pinkish/light brown legs with bright hues - nb light conditions and distance change perception of colour as does age of bird
  • Very long pale hind claw, usually visible when bird is on a wire or on flat ground. *Diagnostic cf other British Pipits. Rock hind claw = hind toe length and black
  • Boldly streaked crown and back - variable
Rock (winter)

  • Stouter bill
  • Diffuse markings on breast and flanks blending into smudging. Overall often olive brown tones to streaks producing rather a sullied appearance, especially on the flanks. Overall tones variable and can be mouse-brown - looks ‘smoke damaged’!
  • Greyish rump and head largely plain
  • Obvious white crescents surrounding the eye on dark face
  • pale yellowish orange base to bill (gets darker (and longer!) in spring)
  • dark streaks on otherwise plain back
  • pale throat stands out
  • Darkish legs - dark pinkish, reddish brown to very dark brown - depending on season and variability.
  • Habitat - Generally shoreline, feeding on flies etc on high tide mark or the hinterland grassy areas in coastal regions (in winter Meadow can share similar habitats!)
Difference in calls (and identified on these alone with practice)
 

louise S

Active member
Sweden
Alexander and Deb, thank you so much for your detailed descriptions here. That's a lot more information and nuance than I've found elsewhere; I really appreciate you taking the time to write these out. With all of this, I might never be confused by a pipit again!
 

Rotherbirder

Well-known member
Alexander and Deb, thank you so much for your detailed descriptions here. That's a lot more information and nuance than I've found elsewhere; I really appreciate you taking the time to write these out. With all of this, I might never be confused by a pipit again!
I wouldn't bank on that Louise. I think we all get confused by pipits at some time, no matter how experienced we are; its all part of the enjoyment!!

RB
 

Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe
There’s always the odd individual but in the field, the main species of Pipit in the UK shouldn't cause too much confusion if seen well imo.

It’s the silent pipits flying over head in the Autumn that stump me sometimes!

Obviously, difficulty with blurry 2-dimensional images of the like we see on BF sometimes is not really an accurate reflection of issues in field identification.

The best thing to do is learn the calls (something I am fairly useless at!)
 

dantheman

Bah humbug
Where was this seen - Sweden (and recently)? (Petrosus/littoralis subspecies? ;-) )

Was size mentioned? (Meadow Pipit is smaller, and usually you are able to tell, even on birds on their own - Meadow Pipit 'dainty' Rock Pipit 'chunky', but they can meet near the middle on lone birds)

Agree, call is a good one to work towards getting to grips with in many birds (I struggle in that area too!)
 

TringBirder

Well-known member
Alexander & Deb have put together a very comprehensive set of features and the only thing I would add is that juvenile Rock Pipits start off by having pale legs that darken in their first autumn and winter, but may not be black by Spring - if they ever get to be truly black. I often see littoralis sub-species, aka Scandinavian Rock Pipit, on my local patch with legs that aren't black. Indeed it has certainly been suggested that female littoralis on average have paler legs than males, so presumably may not be black. So the trick is realising that Rock Pipits, and Water Pipits for that matter, don't all have black legs but generally do have legs that are too dark for a Meadow Pipit.

If this bird is in Kent I think it is most likely to be littoralis.

Pipits are difficult and learning the calls is useful and worth bearing in mind that one species will have a number of different types of call - just to add to the fun.

Good luck - it does get easier with practice and experience.

Roy
 

Redmist

Member
Supporter
Norway
Reading this thread made me take another look at some photos from last week taken on a rocky shoreline in southern Norway. Sorry for hijacking the thread. The first two (1962 and 1967) are the same bird and 1972 is different. At the time I was happy with my simple ID that 62/67 was meadow (pinkish legs) and 72 was rock (dark legs). From what Deb, Alexander and Tring have summarized on 62/67 I think I now lean towards them both being rock based on streaking on darkish breast, pale throat patch, dark legs, plain crown and back? Thanks for all the helpful suggestions above.
 

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Alexander Stöhr

Well-known member
Hello Redmist,
yes first bird is a Rock Pipit. Its a pale legged bird at the extreme end of variation but you can clearly see the right dark velvet-pinkish hue "shining through" and the other features you mentinend.
Second bird is harder imo. Its eiter a Rock or a Water Pipit. I assume it was taken in winter(snow?), but it shows some features of a Water Pipit:
-clear bright white belly, breast and vent.
-whitish wingbars
-streaks to underparts are absent on the flank
- streaks to breast dont appear (difficult to judge) smudged, washed out, broad enough for an ID-book Rock Pipit, but this pattern is just within variation for Rock Pipit I think I remember information that Scandinavian Rock Pipits are similar to Water Pipit in some features)

On first impression, back is better for Water with nearly unstreaked grey-brown back, but it has olive hues there, that are good for Rock Pipit. I havent enough experience there, but it is very rare at best for Water Pipit.
Are there more pictures, where streaking to the breast, head pattern and colour of the back from a different agle can be judged?
If only the streaks to the flanks were sharper, nrrower and pencil-like, and colour of back was a liile bit greyer, warmer, paler and more sand-coloured, I would id it as a Water Pipit.
But the above mentioned caveats make me ask for more pictures. I cant decide between a Water Pipit and an extremly "Water Pipit"-like Rock Pipit, because of olive tinged upperparts and slightly smudged and broad streaks to the flanks.

But the bright white undertail-coverts and unmarked rear flanks are perfect for a Water Pipit. And I dont know, if this bird has a greyer nape contrasting to olive-brown nape, or not.

But with such unmarked bright white vent and belly and what appears to be isolated quite sharp streaks to the breast and some clear brown tone shown to rear back and slightly greyer head, I am in the Water Pipit camp for this with the caveat that colours arent completly accurate in this picturec and it might be a Rock Pipit, see here: https://www.ntbc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Water-Rock-Pipit.pdf

I have seen the olive hue on two different screens!
 

Dmacaskill

Well-known member
Reading this thread made me take another look at some photos from last week taken on a rocky shoreline in southern Norway. Sorry for hijacking the thread. The first two (1962 and 1967) are the same bird and 1972 is different. At the time I was happy with my simple ID that 62/67 was meadow (pinkish legs) and 72 was rock (dark legs). From what Deb, Alexander and Tring have summarized on 62/67 I think I now lean towards them both being rock based on streaking on darkish breast, pale throat patch, dark legs, plain crown and back? Thanks for all the helpful suggestions above.
Agree Rock pipit and Water Pipit
 

louise S

Active member
Sweden
On location if Kent then I agree but in winter plumage, assigning race to Rock Pipits is very difficult!
In Kent, yes. I only just discovered there were subspecies of rock pipit - for now just being able to separate them from meadow pipits feels like a good start :p
 

TringBirder

Well-known member
On location if Kent then I agree but in winter plumage, assigning race to Rock Pipits is very difficult!
I agree that on plumage it can be difficult to assign race to a Rock Pipit in winter but some birds are identifiable as littoralis but petrosus would be very difficult, or maybe impossible, to be certain about. However, petrosus is known to be fairly sedentary and not known to move very far, whereas littoralis clearly migrates a reasonable distance. I don't think Kent has many breeding Rock Pipits so most of the Rock Pipits in winter are likely to be migrants as likely to be littoralis.
 

TringBirder

Well-known member
Hello Redmist,
yes first bird is a Rock Pipit. Its a pale legged bird at the extreme end of variation but you can clearly see the right dark velvet-pinkish hue "shining through" and the other features you mentinend.
Second bird is harder imo. Its eiter a Rock or a Water Pipit. I assume it was taken in winter(snow?), but it shows some features of a Water Pipit:
-clear bright white belly, breast and vent.
-whitish wingbars
-streaks to underparts are absent on the flank
- streaks to breast dont appear (difficult to judge) smudged, washed out, broad enough for an ID-book Rock Pipit, but this pattern is just within variation for Rock Pipit I think I remember information that Scandinavian Rock Pipits are similar to Water Pipit in some features)

On first impression, back is better for Water with nearly unstreaked grey-brown back, but it has olive hues there, that are good for Rock Pipit. I havent enough experience there, but it is very rare at best for Water Pipit.
Are there more pictures, where streaking to the breast, head pattern and colour of the back from a different agle can be judged?
If only the streaks to the flanks were sharper, nrrower and pencil-like, and colour of back was a liile bit greyer, warmer, paler and more sand-coloured, I would id it as a Water Pipit.
But the above mentioned caveats make me ask for more pictures. I cant decide between a Water Pipit and an extremly "Water Pipit"-like Rock Pipit, because of olive tinged upperparts and slightly smudged and broad streaks to the flanks.

But the bright white undertail-coverts and unmarked rear flanks are perfect for a Water Pipit. And I dont know, if this bird has a greyer nape contrasting to olive-brown nape, or not.

But with such unmarked bright white vent and belly and what appears to be isolated quite sharp streaks to the breast and some clear brown tone shown to rear back and slightly greyer head, I am in the Water Pipit camp for this with the caveat that colours arent completly accurate in this picturec and it might be a Rock Pipit, see here: https://www.ntbc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Water-Rock-Pipit.pdf

I have seen the olive hue on two different screens!
A good analysis and you are right to be cautious about the second bird. it does have a number of pro Water Pipit features at first glance. However, I wouldn't like to put a name to the second bird looking at the photo. It is also interesting to note that Water Pipit is a rare bird in Norway and typically they get one or two a year.

Roy
 

Redmist

Member
Supporter
Norway
Thanks Roy, Dan and Alexander for the comments and links - these are a fun challenge. I had dismissed water pipit as an idea as there are not a lot of reports here although there are a few January records. But I can see why it is a possibility now. I've added the only two other photos that I have, poor quality and bad angles so probably not helpful. I think I can see the unstreaked brown back and rump and my first photo above looked (to me) to have a greyish head. Is there a hint of pale supercillium as well which wouldn't be so common in rock? I suppose I will be heading back out on saturday to try to get some better pictures. Thanks to all.
 

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