Wednesday 9 March 2022

A Small Springtime Challenge

This is going to be a slightly self-indulgent post, and little more than a reference library of early-March Rock Pipits. There is a reason though...

Rock Pipits breed along the local coast wherever there are cliffs. The cliffs fizzle out just east of Burton Bradstock, and Rock Pipit is actually quite scarce in the cliffless Cogden & West Bex recording area. However, they are a common enough sight on the clifftop grass and nearby suitable habbo. So I've given myself a modest local challenge: find a spring migrant littoralis (so-called Scandinavian) Rock Pipit among the resident petrosus birds. I have no idea what my chances are, but I am going to keep in mind an encouraging experience from my old East Devon patch, way back in 2009. Like our local cliffs, Beer Head has breeding Rock Pipits. But in the old days I would often find spring gatherings of 10+ birds there; my peak count was 15 on 7th April 2006. Frequently they would be feeding together in a loose flock, and at the time I puzzled whether these could really all be local breeders. Maybe some were indeed migrants? To be frank, I simply could not tell, because plumage-wise they all looked alike. There was absolutely no hint of the distinctive  summer colours of a typical littoralis. That is, until 24th March 2009...

24/3/09. These two digiscoped shots depict the only definite littoralis Rock Pipit I ever saw on Beer Head.

The pinky flush to the throat and upper breast, plus that grey head and diminished underpart streaking are pretty typical of sum-plum littoralis.

So that's what I'm looking for. In the meantime, here are a few I found today. Of at least seven [correction: six!] birds present I managed to photograph four [correction: three!] but all of them looked pretty much the same...

Bird 1

Bird 2 [correction: this is actually bird 1 again, despite being photographed about half a mile away!]

Bird 3 [correction: bird 2!]

Bird 4 [correction: bird 3!]

At present, none shows the slightest hint of littoralis-ness. Possibly because they are all petrosus. But whatever, I shall revisit and try again in due course. Let's see what happens.


  1. Ah good, I like this! My local Rock Pipits here on Skye all look exactly how petrosus Rock Pipits should, but many times I've watched the small flock (12-15 birds usually) that frequents the grass in front of the cafe at Portland Bill and wondered what the heck race they are. Not littoralis, but not particularly petrosus-looking either. Is there a ssp portlandicus, or cretaceus, coz there should be! Looking forward to seeing what you turn up, should be fun!

    1. Thanks Seth. Rock Pipits have intrigued me for some years now, but I've never given them the time they probably deserve. I'll make an effort to rectify that this year.