Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Back Catalogue: Double vision...

American Buff-bellied Pipit x 2 by Ashley Fisher

Tea time, 25th September 2007, a breathless Paul Buxton burst into the Pilot’s Gig Restaurant, Hugh Town, St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly. He’d just found an American Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rebescens in an old bulb field at Carn Friars Farm (then only the 8th record for Britain and still a very rare bird - a further 6 were discovered in Britain by the end 2007). With no mobile reception, he digiscoped the bird, then ran and part-taxied the two miles or so into town to inform the rest of us via Bryan Thomas at the ‘Gig’. There was no doubting Paul or the images he’d taken and everyone duly rushed to the site. The bird showed well but views were curtailed by failing light.

At first light on 27th, Bob and I were again at Carn Friars for second helpings of the Pipit. It was such an interesting bird, that we wanted to study it at our leisure. It was easily located in the original field and we both settled down to watch it – what a contrast from the local Rock and Meadow Pipits! Even though we had both seen rubescens before, it was hard to imagine that this diminutive pipit was once treated as race of Water Pipit A spinolettaAfter an hour or so, Bob decided to check out the remainder of Carn Friars - in view of the recent weather, there was a chance something else might be lurking in the vicinity! I elected to stay: I really wanted to augment earlier notes, sketch the bird and, if views allowed, try video it.

A few minutes after Bob left, the pipit flew up high and began calling. For those who know this call, it is highly distinctive. Most field guides liken it to a squeaky Meadow Pipit and I suppose this gives you the gist of it, but to my ears, it has qualities of Grey Wagtail (a thinner, disyllabic tsip-it) and Blue Tit (a trisyllabic ti-si-sip)!

Remarkably, as the bird circled over adjacent fields, another bird replied, calling back to it from somewhere behind me! I had the calls in stereo! As I turned around, there was another pipit approaching and soon, they were both flying around together. The silhouettes were quite unique; vaguely along the lines of Meadow Pipit but decidedly chubbier/pot-bellied with proportionately shorter tails. After about a minute, they both landed in the original field. I couldn’t believe my eyes, two Buff-bellied Pipits together!

I called Bob’s mobile immediately. He dashed back and we watched the birds with an equal measure of shock and incredulity – would anyone believe us? There had never been two Buff-bellieds’ together before... I rang RBA straight away. I wanted others to witness this great spectacle. There was no need to worry though, as we began to calm down, it dawned on us that we ought to capture the moment on video; which we duly did (see below).

After about 30 minutes, the two birds split up and not long after that, ‘my’ bird vanished; eventually to be relocated on Tresco, some four days later. Interestingly and despite separating, both birds departed Scilly on 2nd October...

This article is the first in a series featuring video from our extensive back catalogue of footage taken in Scilly over the last ten years.