Tuesday 11 May 2021

A Private Audience

Early this morning I gave half an hour to the sea in exchange for a Kittiwake and two Common Scoters. Sensing a bum deal I hurried to Cogden to try and beat the dog-walkers to the beach. I did, but it was very quiet indeed. Apart from 4 Whimbrel and a flimsy thread of Swallows, nothing really. Slowly I walked the beach with the sun at my back. Nothing. No Wheatears, and more crucially, no Tawny Pipit. It may have been on the beach further east, but certainly it appeared to be absent from the Cogden section. No reports today as yet, which means I might actually have been the last person to see it...

Yesterday evening was lovely. Sunny, with a very fresh onshore breeze. Though it isn't something I normally contemplate, a secret corner of my mind has been harbouring a quiet hope. A hope that one day I might get the Tawny Pipit to myself, in good light. And here I was, acting on it.

The beach was pretty much empty, but en route I bumped into another birder. Nick, from Somerset, told me that he'd just come from watching the Tawny Pipit, and helpfully suggested where I should search. I made sure to have the sun behind me, and quickly found it. The time was about 19:20. Knowing how wary it had been on previous occasions, I kept my distance and just stood still. I took a few so-so photos, then realised it was slowly coming closer. Daring to hope good things, I knelt down quietly and waited...

Halving the size of my silhouette clearly helped. I kept as still as possible, occasionally taking a short burst of shots. The light can I put it? Warm and dreamy. I absolutely love the golden tones of early-morning and late-evening sunlight. Sure, it doesn't necessarily convey the true colours of a bird, but do I care? It is beautiful, which in this case trumps chromatic accuracy. A few photos follow. The first is timed at 19:25...

I love the way the primaries typically hang slightly away from the immense tertials. It gives the bird a relaxed, vaguely sloppy look. For some reason not what I'd expect from a Tawny Pipit. And see how the rump area is totally unstreaked? That surprised me when I first noticed it the other day.

This next photo was taken at 19:35. The pipit had walked into a dense mat of sea campion, and just stood there, looking around...

Time: 19:35

I waited for it to move on, but it didn't. Five minutes later it was in the same spot, and if you check out the position of the bird in relation to the flowers adjacent to its belly, it appears to have settled itself down somewhat...

Time: 19:40

I have no idea what time Tawny Pipits go to bed, but after a 20-minute private audience I wondered if it was trying to tell me something. Was it contemplating a nap, or did it simply want a rest? I didn't know, but nevertheless felt I was now somehow intruding. So I thanked it, carefully backed away and bade it farewell...

What a fabulous bird. Not one I'll forget in a hurry.

A very special evening.


  1. Great bird Gav. Equally great pictures. An opportunity grasped.

    1. Thanks Ric. Yes, glad I made the most of it. 😊

  2. Great shots of a grand bird. It has some Shorelark about it that I dont recall seeing in the birds Ive seen abroad. Id love another chance in Northumberland.

    1. Cheers Stewart. This bird was often quite crouchy, more so than I noticed in previous Tawny Pipits, where I recall a lot of strutting and running about. Cogden has a lot of tallish vegetation though. Maybe that's something to do with it...

  3. A little poser - of course, we followers of your blog have come to expect it to have another pipit appearing to sit on its head. Can't win 'em all I suppose.