Sunday 29 January 2023

Let the Games Begin

Back to the dull, innocent stuff today. Finally ventured out this afternoon for an hour at West Bay. Mostly I mooched about the field behind Rise restaurant, trying to sneak up on Rock Pipits. Revisiting photos from last spring's 'find a littoralis' project the other day did fire me up - as it would anyone - and I was eager to make an early start this year. Little blighters were not cooperative, and the light was dire, but I got a handful of useful shots. After that I had time to walk to the seafront, see the broad, grey wall of damp approaching from the west, and quickly turn tail so that I could spend at least a few minutes with the River Brit gulls before the drizzle got too soggy...

This one was a bit distant, but always looked pretty swarthy through bins. Never saw the underparts that well.

Assuming I've got the exposure about right, this one is in a different class altogether. Paler uppers, pale ground colour below, and dark flank streaking seemingly quite narrow. Going by last year's experience I would happily call this littoralis right now. If it's this pale in January, by March it should look great.

Same bird again. Much paler above than first bird. Interesting that its supercilium is nothing special.

In the literature there is a lot of 'you cannot safely tell littoralis from petrosus in winter', and for decades that has been my mantra too. Last year's Rockit games made me wonder about that. Is there really too much overlap? I know that far better birders than me think winter littoralis is doable. I suspect I am going to wind up agreeing with them. The bird in those last two photos cannot be petrosus, surely?!

Here it is again, in a collage shot with yet another bird which only gave me a brief chance...

These two are not side by side in the field; this is a collage. The bird on the right is my littoralis candidate pictured above. Look at those underparts! And if I have the colour balance reasonably matched on both sides of the collage, that bird has a subtle, but noticeable, warm buffy tone to the ground colour.

I am so convinced that this Rock Pipit is a littoralis that I entered it as such on BirdTrack. So if I did have any reputation as a reasonably cautious observer left, it is now flying in tatters. Ah well.

Expect a lot of Rockit stuff...

Before I got too cold and damp, a quick couple of gull photos...

View up the Brit from the harbour bridge. There was a constant trickle of gulls dropping in, with maybe 30-40 present at any one time. Newlyn it is not, but with never know. One day there will hopefully be a nice prize. Today though...

...just Herring Gulls.

When it does happen, at least the photos should be okay.


  1. On the Essex coast it is generally agreed that vast majority are littotalis, in nearly ten years at Colne Point I never seen a bird that I considered to be petrosus. In fact in last week I decided to take the plunge and record my birds as littoralis. In my opinion littoralis in winter is more confusable with Ware Pipit as it has such a variable plumage. Your photo on twitter screamed littoralis at me, I thought you were questioning if it was water pipit.
    Chris Balchin aka Colne Point Birder

    1. Hi Chris, many thanks for that. It is so interesting to hear other birders' take on this issue. I used to be of the opinion that it was unsafe to label a bird littoralis unless it had obvious signs of breeding plumage, and voiced it many times. Last year I finally ate those words and am now trying to make up for lost time. Great fun!

      PS. I've yet to see a Water Pipit where I am now in West Dorset. One day, hopefully...