Thursday, 6 May 2021

Tawny Pipit

It's not often that I go out birding and genuinely expect nothing, but that was certainly the case this morning. With rain over northern France and the Channel I was pretty sure that no amount of migratory urge would be enough to overcome that barrier. And so it proved. Cogden was dead. Just before I left at 07:30 a handful of Swallows trickled by - grudgingly - and that was it.

However, with the rain band forecast to shift away after lunch I planned a late afternoon walk from West Bex, culminating in wonderful views of the Abbotsbury Whiskered Tern from the tank teeth, beautifully lit by the evening sun. I also hoped to bump into some lovely afternoon migrants. Well, that part happened, but not quite how I'd envisaged...

Because Nick Senior only went and found a Tawny Pipit on Cogden beach!

Just after 15:00 I arrived to find Nick and Mike scanning one of the fields. The bird had seemingly flitted off the beach and over the reed bed, possibly into this field. We couldn't find it, and began to wonder if it might have sneaked back on to the beach. Thankfully, it had!

First views. What a cracker!

Really strong face pattern. Nice dark loral stripe. I was really surprised by the lovely creamy-yellow tones to the face and on the upper breast. Mind you, it is more than 30 years since I last saw a spring Tawny Pipit!

Very little in the way of breast streaking, and the dark loral stripe is so obvious from this angle.

The dark median coverts stand out well in this side view. The bird was shy and mostly quite distant, and often very difficult to see when stationary. In this shot you can see why. It kind of blends in...

One by one, a small number of appreciative birders began to arrive, but it was often a challenge to get good views. Periodically - and without any encouragement from its audience - the bird would fly up the beach to a new spot. Sometimes it would stand stock-still for a minute or more, other times it would run like a little gazelle. It was brilliant! But tricky!

This is my one and only flight shot. So, dire as it is, you're getting it!

A rare sight indeed. More than three birders on Cogden beach.

I haven't seen a Tawny Pipit for many years. My only spring bird graced the grassy bank of King George VI Res in West London, and I think that was 1990. My first ever was in September 1982, a bird co-found with Geoff Burton and Martin Coath at Kenfig, Mid-Glamorgan. What were we doing in Wales? Dipping Little Whimbrel, that's what. We were in good company though - Bill Oddie was a tick that day too...

It was lovely to share in this terrific local bird, and Nick's delight at finding it was palpable. For me, this is what local birding is all about. The miles and miles of shingly slog, the countless 'what-ifs' that your imagination conjures on slow days, the nice - and sometimes very nice - birds that give you pleasure along the way, are all leading to moments like this one. And such moments are inevitable. They really are.

Beach scenes at Cogden


  1. The shared enjoyment of a patch bird cannot be overstated.

    1. Agreed. Enjoyment level so much less if bird does early bunk...

  2. Fantastic Gav! It's only right that your regular Shingle Slogs reap a few rewards! 😁

    1. Thanks Viv. Yes, it's been really good lately, and there is still plenty of spring potential to anticipate. 😊

  3. Lovely bird Gav, it would be a UK tick for me. They are rare this far north. The only twitchable one was at Whitley Bay when I was birding in Turkey!

    1. First I've seen for quite a while Stewart. Yesterday I was pretty sure my last Tawny Pipit was about 30 years ago, but since then I've recalled a couple of of more recent Scilly birds. My memory is a bit knackered... 😄