The problem with pipits

What, I hear you ask, is the problem with pipits? Well perhaps it’s more a problem with me, but I have always found them difficult to identify. I’ve seen hundreds of meadow pipits over the years, but when it comes to water pipit, tree pipit and rock pipit I have always had issues telling them apart. And so it is that I’ve never actually consciously identified a water pipit, so I headed out to Cley this morning knowing that water pipits are being seen along the Norfolk coast at the moment, in the hope of seeing one.

Some of the Cley hides were closed for maintenance so I headed for Bishop’s hide, where I had seen the starling murmuration a couple of days ago. One of the first things I heard, as I was walking along the path to the hide, was the “pinging” sounds of a group of bearded tits. I waited around but only got a glimpse of one before they moved off. It will go on the list for today, but I’m hopeful of getting better views at some point this year!

Once in the hide I was amazed by the number of avocets – I counted over 100. At one point they all flew up together and it was basically a murmuration of avocets!

More avocets than I have seen in a single group before – and this was just part of the flock!

A single spoonbill also flew in to join the numerous other ducks, waders and geese on view in the intermittent sunshine, with the occasional marsh harrier and red kite overhead.


I then saw something – there was no time to get a photograph – that I have never seen: I was watching a male marsh harrier and then a female came into view through the binoculars as well. Then I noticed that the male was carrying a food item in its talons, possibly a small rodent, which it then dropped to be caught by the female. I have only ever seen this behaviour on TV documentaries, so this was fantastic to see live! Both harriers then dropped down into the same area of reed bed.

Next there was a smartly plumaged and camouflaged snipe feeding quite near the hide. I love the patterns on these birds and the way they bob slightly (though for reall bobbing you need to see a jack snipe!).

common snipe

A couple of minutes later the person next to me asked if I knew what the small bird was that had just landed on the island in front of us. I looked and there was a pipit. Given the location and the fact that they have been seen here I immediately suspected water pipit, but I watched it carefully, looking for the colouration and the head pattern. Luckily for me it then came quite a bit closer and I managed to get some reasonable photos that allowed me to positively identify it once I got home: a water pipit – another species for my life list!

A winter plumage water pipit at Cley

New species for March 7th:
Birds: bearded tit, water pipit

Birds = 138
Moths = 9
Wildflowers = 23