2nd February

Still firmly in the late winter doldrums with just a handful of reports from the Bill: 7 Red-throated Divers through offshore where 43 Common Scoter were still settled and c1000 Kittiwakes were amongst the feeding aggregation; onshore, the Cetti's Warbler and Chiffchaff were still at the Obs.

A local-ish bird that we were quite keen to see - well, actually we weren't bothered at all about seeing it, we really only wanted to hear it calling - was this Water Pipit that's been parading about at point-blank range at Bowleaze Cove in Weymouth this week...

Our take was that we really wanted to try and get to grips with what Water Pipits sounded like since we're guessing we must be missing/overlooking the odd ones that must surely turn up - or perhaps more likely fly over - at the Bill at migration times. Back in our junior days at Lodmoor, Water Pipit was a bird that we were totally familiar with - they were common winter visitors that we'd see and hear on a daily basis and we thought we were tuned in to how their calls differed subtly but noticeably from the calls of the Rock Pipits that were also surprisingly frequent visitors to the saltmarsh there. Once we'd moved to Portland we completely lost familiarity with them and, besides, it seems they've now become quite infrequent in Weymouth. We had a similar 'try to get to know Water Pipit again' session ten years ago when several showed up on some flooded fields beside Radipole Park Drive when we were able to get a few lame photos and some much better recordings of them:

As we alluded to earlier, in the past we can remember being confident we could tell Water and Rock calls apart but as that knowledge faded we also became aware that in fact many authorities considered them altogether more tricky - "generally indistinguishable" according to Per Alstrom in Pipits and Wagtails; however, latterly the differences have been elucidated by Thijs Fijen (PDF) Flight call identification of Rock Pipit and Water Pipit (researchgate.net) and the sonograms of our recordings from these encounters do at least bear this out, with Rock being that little bit higher pitched, noticeably rising and peaking towards the end of the call; in comparison, Water is not only lower but also more evenly pitched. Without daily familiarity we seriously doubt whether we'd be confident enough these days to claim a fly-over Water Pipit at the Bill so hopefully an encounter of that sort will be when the recorder's running and we'll have some tangible evidence to scrutinize after the event © Martin Cade: