Tuesday 30 December 2014

Blyth's Pipit and Thayer's Gull twitch

The idea had been to arrive before 9am just as the Pipit would be warming up, get that one in the bag then head to the landfill site over at Ravensthorpe to clinch the Thayer's Gull and be sitting down to slap-up celebratory fry at some greasy spoon cafe by 10am!
The reality was a lot different! Leaving Norwich at 5am and picking up Nick Watmough, James Lowen and Yoav Perlman en route, we drove up north via the scary A17 (a narrow, dark and very icy road) and had reached Wakefield in West Yorkshire before 9am.
At the Blyth's Pipit site in Calder Business Park we were met by other birders who advised that the bird had been spooked by a Sparrowhawk and had left the site. After a twenty minute search of an adjacent area by James and Yoav we made an executive decision to go for the Thayer's Gull and come back to the Pipit when hopefully it would have returned.

Blyth's Pipit site, Calder BP, Wakefield - frozen solid at 9am!
Over at Ravensthorpe things weren't much better. Views into the Biffa recycling plant were against the sun and limited. Birders milled around but no-one seemed sure what was going on. Yoav spotted an Iceland Gull flying over which was a new bird for him and a British tick for me so all was not lost.
Then the news popped up that the Pipit was back. We checked some local playing fields for loafing gulls without success before heading back to Calder BP.
Sure enough the Pipit was there moving in and out of sight as it fed busily amongst the long grass. Distant and difficult to photograph, I took scope views first before doing anything else. For me, it appears much like a mix between Richard's Pipit and Tree Pipit. Visibly larger than Meadow Pipit (we got a good comparison when it took flight with two Mipits) and we heard the call once which was a bonus.

Blyth's Pipit, Wakefield, West Yorkshire
Any photos I got are record shots at best, finding a good position to shoot from without blocking anyone else was a challenge.
Anyway, at around 2.30pm we decided to head back to Pugney CP where we had parked, to grab a coffee before the gulls began to assemble to roost on the lake. This was where the Thayer's had been picked up previously.
There was already a row of birders scanning the lake while we fueled up from the local cafe. At 3pm we joined the line and began to scope the gulls.

Thayer's twitch, Pugney CP, Wakefield
A Thayer's Gull was bound to stimulate interest for several reasons, Not currently treated as a seperate species by BOURC though other authorities do view it as such. Identification in the field is a challenge. There are no accepted records in the UK as yet though several pending (I'm told) that have strong credentials. May also interbreed with Kumlien's Gull in certain locations just to add a further wrinkle to the whole thing!
Anyway we scanned until after 4pm, as the light faded a first winter Iceland Gull came in but that was the best we could produce. In any case following an early start, a long drive, a busy day of birding and the cold temperatures, I was starting to fade. We left after 4pm and made our way back to Norwich.
While disappointing for James, Nick and Yoav who all had previously seen Blyth's Pipit and really wanted the Thayer's Gull, at least Yoav got two British ticks (Iceland Gull and Blyth's) and I got a lifer (Blyth's) and a British Tick (Iceland) plus the craic and the company throughout made for a very enjoyable day out!

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