4 Apr 2022

Hilbre - in praise of pipits

Meadow Pipits are a very underrated bird. They're little brown jobs that seem to be preyed upon by many of our raptor species. Merlins, Sparrowhawks, Hen harriers and even Peregrines are partial to a Meadow Pipit. They're also fascinating. Breeding on some of our most inhospitable terrain in the hills they'll move down to lower elevations in winter and a large proportion of the population are migratory. 

They're also interesting to ringers as they undergo a partial pre-breeding moult involving the median and lesser coverts an occasionally the inner greater coverts, tertials and central tail feathers. This makes ageing interesting and reliant on a whole suite of characters including an assessment of feather wear.

Hilbre has a small breeding population of Meadow Pipits and we get to ring quite a few each year. Even so it still takes time to get your 'eye in' when catching them in the spring.

In recent years Hilbre has also hosted a small population of Rock Pipits. Again, many dismiss these as 'little brown jobs' but close up the intricacies of the plumage are stunning. They're a much bigger bird than the Meadow Pipit and undergo the same pre-breeding moult (in addition to their post juvenile and post breeding moults). I was lucky ewnoufgh to be able to process two retrap Rock Pipits on my recent trip to Hilbre so was able to examine them closely knowing that they'd already been ringed and aged previously.

As well as the pipits we had a small smattering of migrants on the island with Goldcrest, Robin and male Blackcap being ringed.

Nine Purple Sandpipers were still feeding around the island and roosted over the high tide on the sheltered west side of the island away from the biting easterly wind. Other spring migrants included a male Ring Ouzel that flew up from the south end of the island over our heads and landed on the track before promptly disappearing beneath one of the fences. Despite an intensive search it was only seen once again, in flight, being pursued by the resident male Blackbird. I also got to see my first Wheatear of the spring! 

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