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Buff-Bellied Pipit, Rerwick beach, Scousbourgh

Posted by Roger Riddington on Sunday 30th September 2012 | Birding in Shetland

In 15 years of helping out on the monthly beached bird surveys in Shetland, my highlights so far have both been dead ones – a Brunnich’s Guillemot and a Great Shearwater (both in 2007) – but I have long hoped to find a decent live bird while trogging round my three Shetland beaches. On 30th September 2012, the miles walked eventually paid off.

The day was bright, sunny and pleasantly mild, with a moderate to fresh SW wind, There was not much in the way of new birds being reported that weekend and my plan was to do beaches before a big breakfast. My wife Agnes came out with me, and we covered Scousburgh and Peerie Voe before heading to Rerwick, the beach on the north side of the Bay of Scousburgh. We were almost at the easternmost end of the beach, and I was scanning through half a dozen Alba Wagtails and 10+ Rock Pipits, when one particular pipit jumped out at me with strongly and pretty uniformly buff-washed underparts. Almost immediately it took off and flew down the beach with a call that sounded to me just like a Meadow Pipit! I was confused but still thought that it was probably a Buff-bellied Pipit – but one that was clearly not nailed. I left Agnes holding my coat and bins and ran up the cliff to get my camera. Back down on the beach ten minutes later, I approached the west end of the beach, where the bird had flown off to. Eventually, I refound it, on its own, near the stream – it was indeed a BUFF-BELLIED PIPIT! Fantastic! It called several times more – most of the calls sounded exactly like the previous Buff-bellied Pipits I’d heard in Shetland, but one other set of calls also sounded – to me – just like a Meadow Pipit.

This is the 10th BBP for Shetland, following four on Fair Isle (one found a few days before this one), three on Foula and two others on Mainland, all bar one of the Fair Isle ones since 2007. Interestingly, I think it is the first to be found (and primarily seen) on a beach – in contrast, most of the ones seen in Iceland are on beaches.

That same weekend, Mike Pennington found a Pechora Pipit in Unst while doing his beached bird surveys. If you live in Shetland and you don’t contribute to the survey – maybe you should!

Roger Riddington


Be sure to check out last year’s sighting of a Buff-Bellied Pipit by Martin Garner.