The whistleri conundrum

Yesterday, whilst on duty at Cley NWT, I was walking along East Bank towards the car park when I noticed a pipit fly up from the grass at the edge of the drain and drop down a short distance away. Knowing that there’d been a report of a Water Pipit on the Serpentine a couple of days before I was keen to see the bird at close quarters. When I did eventually locate it, at medium range, I was somewhat surprised to find that I was looking at a pipit sp with obvious apricot underparts! However, it was quickly apparent that this wasn’t the hoped for Water Pipit but a probable aberrant Meadow Pipit. Despite at times looking rather reminiscent of a Red-throated Pipit, apart from it’s distinctive coloured underparts, all other id features conformed to Meadow Pipit – with olive tones on it’s back and head, weak but defined streaking on the flanks and pinkish/yellow legs. The bird didn’t call whilst I was watching but  it was heard to do so later in the morning – giving confirmation of it’s id as Meadow Pipit.

I remained curious about the bird and mentioned it to Steve Gantlett and Carl Chapman – who saw the bird shortly after me. Steve very kindly alerted me to an article by Richard Porter in Birding World, in which he recounts a similar encounter with a pipit on Blakeney Point in March 2004. The question examined in the article is whether or not such ‘orange breasted’ Meadow Pipits are possibly of the Irish or western Scottish race whistleri? Due to the general variation of plumage in Meadow Pipits, shifting taxonomy and the apparent infrequency of records of ‘orange breasted’ pipits, the question of the origins of such birds goes largely unresolved.

For a more coherent account of the issues raised by ‘orange breasted’ pipits read Birding World  2005 (18: 169-172) and watch out for much better photos of the Cley bird on Carl’s blog. I leave you with these cautionary words from Richard Porter:

This short contribution may encourage a greater awareness of the whistleri conundrum. Suffice to say that some Meadow Pipits in the west of their range and elsewhere can be decidedly orange-buff below, and sometimes they have greatly reduced streaking on the under-parts. Perhaps the birds addressed in this note are extreme forms of whistleri, or maybe they are simply individuals showing erythrism (excess red pigmentation), but what is equally important from a birding point of view is the fact that such birds can resemble Red-throated Pipit (or indeed superficially, Water Pipit! TW) Unless looked at carefully, they can be a pitfall for the unwary.

In the mean time you’ll have to put up with my rather inferior grab shots!




‘orange bellied’ Meadow Pipit – Cley NWT, 30th March 2015 


This afternoon, on our second attempt, we were successful in tracking down the adult male Ring-necked Duck at Hardley Staithe. Despite the ferocious winds and lashing rain, we located the RNG on the more distant angler’s pond, in the company of Pochard and Tufted Duck. Managed to hold the ‘scope steady enough to see the salient  features and take a few grab-shots of this increasingly scarce American vagrant. A Norfolk ‘tick’ for me.


  Ring-necked Duck, Hardley Staithe – 29th March 2015



A few days birding

We’ve had our good friends Neil & Eunice here for a few days birding. Despite the rather unfavourable weather forecast we managed to get out every day and catch up with most of the local ‘celebrities’/ long-staying visitors. The highlights of which included: Black Redstart, Mandarin Duck, Woodlark, Dartford Warbler, Iceland Gull, Garganey, Snow Bunting, Rough-legged Buzzard, Richard’s Pipit and these beauties:

Shore Lark, Blakeney Point


Garganey, Weybourne beach pool


Black Redstart, Felbrigg Hall


Distant Rough-legged Buzzard over Holkham dunes, digiscoped  from the A149


Dartford Warbler, North Norfolk heath


Woodlark, North Norfolk heath


Richard’s Pipit, Breydon Water


Snow Bunting, Weybourne


Historic Churches of Norfolk – route 12

Last Thursday I resumed my on-going project to cycle to and photograph all of the historic churches of Norfolk. We couldn’t have picked a much colder, more overcast, day with a stiff north wind. I was accompanied by my friend Helen (she of the Walking Tours of Norwich City Churches fame). We cycled over 50k and did 19 churches, all in the area, east of Norwich, between the A47 and the river Yare. The day ended badly for me when I realised that I’d lost my phone, somewhere on route. I retraced my steps nearly back to our lunch stop, missed my return train to Norwich and incurred significant unwelcome extra miles – and all to no avail. Lets hope that the rest of this seasons cycle rides go better! Still we did see some very nice churches –  unfortunately many of which, in this particular part of the county, are locked.

The Route 


The Churches

St Andrew Thorpe St Andrew, All Saints Postwick, St Lawrence Brundall, St Andrew Blofield, St Michael Braydeston, St Peter Strumpshaw, St Nicholas Buckenham, St Mary Hassingham, St Margaret Cantley, St Botolph Limpenhoe, St John the Baptist Reedham, All Saints Freethorpe, St Andrew Wickhampton, St Peter & St Paul Tunstall, St Peter & St Paul Halvergate, St Mary Moulton St Mary, All Saints Beighton, St Edmund South Burlingham and St Peter Lingwood.

The Photos

St Andrew, Thorpe St Andrew


All Saints, Postwick

Postwick All Saints

St Lawrence, Brundall


Stained glass detail

Brundall St Laurence

St Andrew, Blofield


Font, depicting the life of Christ – unique in Norfolk


The ‘Red Cross’ window

Blofield St Andrew & St Peter


St Michael, Braydeston


St Peter, Strumpshaw


St Nicholas, Buckenham

Buckenham St Nicholas

Simple, slightly ‘decaying’ interior


St Mary, Hassingham

Hassingham St Mary

St Margaret, Cantley

Cantley St Margaret

St Botolph, Limpenhoe


St John the Baptist, Reedham


All Saints, Freethorpe


St Andrew, Wickhampton

Wickhampton St Andrew 2

Details of 14th century wall paintings =- amongst the best in England


Wickhampton St Andrew

St Peter & St Paul, Tunstall

Tunstall St Peter & St Paul

Face in the wall


St Peter & St Paul, Halvergate


St Mary, Moulton St Mary

Moulton St Mary St Mary


14th century wall paintings depicting the Seven Works of Mercy

Moulton St Mary St Mary

All Saints, Beighton

Beighton All Saints

St Edmund, South Burlingham

South Burlingham St Edmund

Fine interior with early painted pulpit, wall painting and rood screen


Elephant & Castle bench end

South Burlingham St Edmund 2

St Peter, Lingwood

Lingwood St Peter

Snow Patrol

We did an extra day’s volunteering at Cley NWT today, to help with their Members Weekend pre-view of the new Simon Aspinall Centre. It was overcast and drizzling most of the day with a bitter northerly wind, making it feel like the depths of winter again. Not surprisingly then that the birding highlight of the day was a small flock of winter visitors – Snow Bunting.


It all Adders up

Spent yesterday afternoon on a north Norfolk Heath. Having visited on three previous occasions this year without success, I was delighted to find a pair of Dartford Warbler, nest building. Not unusually, they were in the company of a male Stonechat. A little further along the track were a pair of Woodlark. Across the road, at the base of a sunny bank, we were treated to a mesmerising display of basking Adders. The milky cast to their eyes being an indication, apparently, that they are about to slough their skins.


Flying Barn Door


Second winter White-tailed Eagle, Weybourne, 16th March 2015

Yesterday a White-tailed Eagle was tracked from it’s overnight roost in Essex, across Suffolk, through central Norfolk to Warham Greens on the Norfolk coast, where it presumably roosted. This morning it continued it’s journey east along the coast, being first spotted over Cley NWT at 7.50am. We caught up with it, sitting on the shingle ridge, close to Kelling Quag, as seen from Warborough Hill. It was eventually flushed by a dog walker, took off and headed towards Weybourne, where we were able to intercept it and get it on our newly created NENBC list! It continued along the coast to Cromer, where it headed inland. It was last reported from Hickling, mid-morning. A second winter bird, this was my fourth in the county. White-tailed Eagle, commonly dubbed the ‘Flying Barn Door’ are, as the name implies, truly enormous. However, it’s not the overall scale and power of the bird that gets me so much as the size of it’s massive beak! Here are a few more snaps, taken at various locations:

First seen from Warborough Hill, sitting on the shingle ridge, at a distance of over a kilometre


Heading east towards Weybourne


Being mobbed by a young Great Black-backed Gull


Flying east,off-shore, Weybourne beach





Little Gull – big impression


Adult Little Gull, in winter plumage – 11th March 2015

Decided this morning to have a look for the over-wintering Little Gull, which has been hanging around Happisburgh. Parked the car at Cart Gap and enjoyed an invigorating walk along the cliff-top path towards the lighthouse. The Little Gull was hunkered down with a handful of other gulls on the ploughed field before the village. After a while it went airborne and gave some incredible views as it scoured the area for prey items.







Bunting Hunting


Lapland Bunting, Weybourne – 10th March 2015

Following several reports on the NENBC website of Lapland Bunting, on the cliff tops at Webourne, I was up early this morning to go ‘bunting hunting’! Starting at the coastguard cottages, I walked slowly east along the edge of the newly drilled field. I hadn’t gone more than fifty yards when a fabulous male, near summer plumage, Snow Bunting flew down on to the field – great views but too far away to photograph. Several Skylark, Meadow Pipit and Linnet kept dropping on to the bare earth in the near distance, keeping me on my toes, but no sign of Lapland Bunting by the end of the first field. However, half way along the next, two darker looking birds flew up and then briefly dropped down close to where I was stood. A number of birds, including Skylark just to add to the confusion, then flew up, with several birds flying east and four heading across the field, in the direction of coastguard cottages. They landed someway into the field but I could immediately see they were Lapland Bunting – three female types and a winter plumage male, beginning to darken around the chest. Slightly distant for good photos but very nice nonetheless.

A few more shots:

IMG_5708 IMG_5706 IMG_5730


Iceland Gull at Weybourne

Following my post on 4th February, concerning the arrival of Iceland Gulls at Sheringham, an Iceland Gull – thought to be one of that original influx, has been following the plough, on fields east of Weybourne over the past few days. Variously described as ‘juvenile’, ‘immature’ and ‘2nd winter’ on the Bird Information services, yesterday morning I went in search of it. The bird was seen on arrival, sitting in the middle of the field, unperturbed by the tractor going to and fro across the field. At a distance the bird looked very pale on the head and breast with more pale coffee coloration on the back and wing coverts. The bill was described by other observers as ‘all dark’. Discounting, for now, the possibility of a second bird causing confusion, the age of this individual is rather baffling to me and, possibly, to others? To me the Weybourne bird looks most like the ‘1st winter’ bird I saw a month ago, albeit with slightly paler body parts – which I assume could be caused by the progress of moult into summer plumage. But, unless it’s a trick of the light, the bill coloration is puzzling – certainly yesterday’s bird doesn’t show the striking bi-coloured bill of either of the previous Sheringham birds – looking rather dark uniform in colour with an indistinct pinkish ‘bridge’. Could the bill of this bird have darkened or is it possibly another, third/fourth individual I ask?





For far better photos of this bird, visit Steve Gantlett’s, Cley Birds website.