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Pipits and wagtails

Updated: 2 days ago

Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava [BoCC5: Red]

Though as at present, this species was better known as a migrant historically, several early authors refer to wintering birds in Cornwall, a phenomenon that was treated with skepticism, until one was seen at Loe Pool on 18th Dec 1975, along with several other sightings away form the Lizard that winter.

It is currently a fairly common migrant, particularly in autumn. Race flava (Blue-headed) and hybrid 'Channel Wagtail' has bred on a few occasions and the first documented sighting of this species is of a Blue-headed Wagtail at Gunwalloe on 14th May 1936. Race flavissima is also thought to have bred: at Gunwalloe in 1924. Blue-headed Wagtails also occur fairly regularly on migration, with records in spring far easier to identify than those in autumn. Other races recorded include thunbergi (Grey-headed) at Bass Point on 26th Aug 2011 (B Cave), Lizard Point on 15th Sep 2019 (T Blunden), Housel on 18th May 2021 (T Blunden) and feldegg (Black-headed) at Housel on 19th May 2019.

Black-headed Wagtail, Housel, 19th May 2019. Tony Blunden.

Grey-headed Wagtail, Housel, 18th May 2021. Tony Blunden.

Conventional Yellow Wagtail, Predannack Airfield. Ilya Maclean

(Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis)

There are several records of raspy and/or grey yellow wagtails in late autumn, but none have been clinched with certainty. A particularly good candidate was recorded between Lizard Point and Housel on 21st Oct 2020.

Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola

Rare, with just three records, the first two from Windmill Farm. One on 16th May 2004 (A Pay) stayed for about 25 minutes before flying east. Another 4th-8th Sep 2013 (P & C Brewster). On 17th Sep 2023 one was found on Predannack Head (S Bury).

Citrine Wagtail, Windmill Farm, 16th May 2004. Andy Pay

Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea [BoCC5: Amber]

19th century authors describe this species as a winter visitor to Cornwall, though by the early 20th century the species was knwon to be reedin around Truro and in the eats of the county. The species was noted as breeding at Trellowarren in 1932, when as a breeder was still exceptionally rare in the west of the country. It is now a fairly common breeding resident, with numbers supplemented by migrants and winter visitors.

Historic (1982) confirmed breeding distribution of Grey Wagtail on the Lizard.

Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba

The race yarelli (Pied Wagtail) is a common breeder throughout Cornwall, and have been at least since accounts given by James of Mannacan in 1808. Numbers are supplemented considerably by migrants, particularly in autumn, when counts of several 100 are not uncommon. On occasion, moderately sized wagtail roosts are also noted at Loe Pool during winter. Race alba (White Wagtail) is a fairly common autumn and scarce spring migrant. It has been reported regularly from the wider Lizard area since at least 1843 with little evidence of a marked change in status. Peak numbers pass through in early August, when it can outnumber yarelli.

Pied Wagtail, Predannack Airfield. Ilya Maclean

Flocks of White Wagtails are a typical sight in Autumn, the above in a field near Grade Marsh in Sep 2020.

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Pied Wagtail on the Lizard. Large squares indicate confirmed breeding, medium-sized squares probable breeding and small squares present in the breeding season and possibly breeding.

Richard's Pipit Anthus richardi

Records of Richard's Pipits in both Cornwall generally and on the Lizard have undoubtedly increased, though the extent to which this is attributable to better observer coverage is uncertain. It is currently a scarce autumn and rare winter visitor and spring migrant. The earliest autumn record is on 15th Sep 2018, though one seen briefly on 3rd Sep 2018, is considered by the observer in hindsight to potentially have been Tawny Pipit and is thus not included in the seasonal and 5-year totals. Winter records include one near Pen-Olver in Jan 2008, three together around Old Lizard Head on 17th Dec 2013, singles at Crane Ledge on 11th-19th Jan 2014, Little Treleaver on 3rd Dec 2003, 17th Feb 2014, 3rd Feb 2015 and 12th Mar 2016, Windmill Farm on 2nd Jan 2018, Mullion Golf Course on 7th-9th Jan 2021, between Housel Bay and the lighthouse on 3rd Dec 2021, over Mullion Golf Course on 14th Dec 2021 and at Caerthillian on 29th Nov to 17th Dec 2023. Its habits of wintering seems to be a fairly recent phenomenon. Also up to two in the Caerthillian area 1st-14th Jan 2018, one of which may have been the Windmill Farm bird.

Richard's Pipit, 1st Nov 2014. Tony Blunden

Richard's Pipit, Lizard Lighthouse area, 3rd Dec 2021. Joe Jones.

Seasonal trends (left) and 5-year totals (right) of initial sightings of Richard's Pipit on the Lizard Peninsula.

Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris

Formerly scarce, now rare, though just 13 records in total. (all singles):

1971: 18th Sep (Bass Point).

1982: 9th Sep (Caerthillian) and 3rd Oct (Preddanack Head).

1983: 7th May and 24th Sep (near Mullion).

1986: 21st Sep (near Kynance).

1989: 7th May (near Kynance) and 3rd-11th Sep (Lizard Point).

1999: 2nd Aug (Church Cove) and 17th-23rd Sep (Predannack Airfield).

Since 2000, there have been just four records of singles: at Lizard Point on 21st Oct 2008, and at Lloyd's Lane on 8th May 2009, with another on the 11th (B Cave) and one at Old Lizard Head on 10th Oct 2012 (T Blunden).

Seasonal trends (left) and 5-year totals (right) of initial sightings of Tawny Pipit on the Lizard Peninsula.

Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis [IUCN: NT][BoCC5: Amber]

All writers from the 19th century refer to this species being abundant, widespread and particularly common on migration in Cornwall and there is thus little to suggest a marked change in status. On the Lizard it is currently a very common resident breeder, with numbers supplemented considerable by migrants and to a lesser extent by over-wintering birds. Probably the most common bird on the Lizard during autumn.

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Meadow Pipit on the Lizard. Large squares indicate confirmed breeding, medium-sized squares probable breeding and small squares present in the breeding season and possibly breeding.

Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis [BoCC5: Red]

Regarded as very rare in Cornwall in the 19th century, though whether this is an artifact of identification challenges and lack of familiarity with the call of overhead migrants is uncertain. From about the 1960s, recorded with regularity. On the Lizard it was first recorded in 1948 and is currently a scarce spring and fairly common Autumn migrant. Extreme dates are 6th Apr (1987) and 4th Nov (1998) though the situation in late Autumn is muddied by the possibility of Olive-backed flying overhead. Has been recorded holding territory at Croft Pascoe in 1985-86 and in 2007, though none remained very long.

Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni

Rare with just three definite records. Singles at Church Cove on 1st Nov 2011 (T Blunden et al), Little Treleaver on 28th-30th Oct 2012 (J Foster) and Lizard Point on 27th Oct 2017 (D Collins). Probables or possibles were recorded at Church Cove on 13th Oct 2012, Lizard Point on 28th Oct 2018 and Porthleven on 5th Nov 2018.

Pechora Pipit Anthus gustavi

One seen at Chyvavrloe stuibble fields on the afternoon of 26th October 2004 (S Bury). Steve gives this account. Walking along the track south of Chyvarloe from Dales farmhouse towards Gunwalloe with my neighbour Keith Harris, we got to the gateway of one of the large stubble fields, which was full skylarks and pipits. We flushed a small pipit close to us and noticed strong white streaking and wing bars. We had good close views of it and when in flight it called repeatdely, giving a very distinctive call. Initial thoughts based on appearance were Red-throated pipit, but the the call was all wrong. I remember thinking then it could it be Pechora. Gathering our thoughts we returned Chyvarloe. I said to Keith I’ve got a CD of rare eastern vagrants. I played the calls of Olive backed , Red throated, and then Pechora. Both of us iuinstantly recongised the call of Pechora as the bird we had just heard.

Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus

Rare with just 5 confirmed records (all of singles, 4 autumn records, 1 spring record):

1998: 18th Oct (Lizard area, location unspecified).

2003: 11th-12th Oct (Lizard Point).

2011: 15th Oct (Bass Point, T Blunden).

2012: 8th May (Lizard Point).

2016: 8th-11th Oct (Pistol Meadows / Lizard Village, I Maclean et al).

2023: 9th Oct (possible heard calling over Little Treleaver)

Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rubescens

Rare with just one record. A bird of the American race rubescens found on Old Lizard Head on 30th Oct 2021 (J Irvine), was probably present the previous day.

American Buff-bellied Pipit, Old Lizard Head, Oct 2021. Ilya Maclean

Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta [BoCC5: Amber]

Historically this species was rare in Cornwall: regular records are only since 1949, which is also the year of the first sighting on the Lizard, It is currently best described as an uncommon migrant and winter visitor, most commonly recorded from the Gunwalloe and Poldhu areas (8 records) and Windmill Farm (7 records).

Seasonal trends (left) and 5-year totals (right) of initial sightings of Water Pipit on the Lizard Peninsula.

Rock Pipit Anthus petrosus

There is little to suggest a marked change in status of this species. It was historically, and remains currently, a common resident with numbers potentially supplemented by migrants. Occasional records of littoralis (Scandinavian Rock Pipit) occur in early spring.

Rock Pipit, Poltesco. Ilya Maclean

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Rock Pipit on the Lizard. Medium-sized squares indicate probable breeding and small squares present in the breeding season and possibly breeding.

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