This is the story of a controversial bird, a very controversial bird.
On the morning of the 23rdOctober a Cornwall birder had a flyover large pipit with a strange call in a maize field in Sennen. The bird was subsequently re-found and thought to be a rather odd looking Richard’s Pipit in very heavy moult. This is scarce visitor to the UK with ten or so records a year. A local birder was able to get a sound recording of its odd call and sent it to bird sound expert Magnus Rob. Magnus quickly eliminated both Richard’s and Blyth’s pipit but said that it was a dead ringer for a Paddyfield Pipit! This would not only be a first record for the UK but also for the whole western Palearctic. A poo sample has been obtained which may yield a definitive identification. This requires stomach or intestine cells to be present and hence only works 50% of the time.
The question is what on earth is it doing in Cornwall? The Paddyfield Pipit is a resident breeder and only a very short distance migrant. The nearest breeding populations are some 6000 km away in Afghanistan and India although there have been two records 1000 km further west in the UAE. The first thought is hence that it must be an escaped cage bird. Subsequent enquiries, however, have indicated that there is no record of this bird either being kept in aviaries or ever being offered for sale in the UK or Europe. The other possibility is that it has been ship assisted, i.e. it has hopped onto a ship and hitched a ride. This also seems very unlikely as it is an insectivore and also any journey from its homelands would have taken it very close to land so surely it would have hopped off?
So, to quote Sherlock Holmes, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth”.
If it is accepted as genuine it surely will be the UK bird of the year if not the decade.
With all this in mind I decided that I really should go and see it and so I departed just after 5 am yesterday for Cornwall. I arrived just before 10 am and found fifty or so other birders present. The weather was pretty atrocious, very stormy with heavy internment downpours, but I stuck it out for four hours and had two very close encounters when the bird came to the edge of its favoured maize field. I had hoped to also see a rare American buff-bellied pipit present in the same location but this did not shown during my time present and by 14:00 I was chilled to the bone and decided to leave.
My bird alert service informed me that a Lesser Scaup had been found at Helston boating pond which was on the way home. I’ve only ever had very distant scope views of this North American Vagrant so thought it would be rude not to go and see it. On arrival it was showing very well in amongst a flock of tufted ducks and I spent an hour or so watching and photographing it before the long journey home.