Sunday, October 30, 2016

Tawny Pipit

Almost 21 years to the day and lightning strikes again at Loop Head in the form of a Tawny Pipit. To explain, yesterday morning I should have been back on the loop but due to a hectic week at work I decided to rest for the day. Big mistake. I got a phone call from Jeff Copner early in the morning asking me was I back on the Loop and wondering were there any birds about. As I was not there I did not know what birds were about. I received a call from Gracer who was on Dursey and we shared the latest bird findings around the country. Tony Mee's named popped up in conversation as I thought he was on Dursey, but then realised he was at Loop.  After speaking with Gracer I phoned Tony immediately to be informed he had a large pale pipit near the Lighthouse that he was unsure about and could not make his mind up on wheter it was a pale Richards or a Tawny.  By this stage Jeff was on the scene and had managed to get a few shots, three of which he forwarded to me.   I was now in the car on the outskirts of Ennis racing back to Loop.  The shots were fairly clear but I was worried that the bird might have been a Blyth's Pipit and why I will now explain.
On the 30th October 1995 at 14.10, 21 years ago, I was at the north west corner of Loop Head Lighthouse with my good friend Brian Finnegan. As we approached the corner of the wall a large pale pipit walked through the deep grass just off the path on the north side of the wall.  We watched it for about 5-6 minutes and were both happy it was a Tawny Pipit (a first for Clare). I ran back to the car to get my camera and when I got back the bird had walked out into the open flattened grassy path heading towards the tip of the headland. Just as I got back onto the bird and was about to shoot the pic, a jogger ran around the corner of the lighthouse wall and scared the bird off. Now 21 years ago at Loop Head tourist were rare at any time of the year but more so in October, but joggers, well they were even rarer. The guy was lucky that he was not thrown over the cliff as Brian and I were furious. We spent an hour rechecking the headland but had no luck re-locating the bird.
But the story does not end there.  Dave McAdams was on Loop and was staying with us in Sides Cottage, so I decided it was time to call in additional troops and no better man than Mac.  We re-searched the headland but still could not locate the bird. Dave did ask me at the time did I notice the loral stripe to which I honestly had to admit that I didn't. The following day Dave located a large pale pipit at Loop Head and he was positive that it was a Blyth's Pipit.  At the time we discussed the bird in much detail but nothing was ever done about it.  I had no experience with Blyth's and I still have not seen them, so nothing has changed on that front. Dave had seen many in India so was in a better position to recognise Blyth's  pipit than I. This would have been a first Irish record. I have however seen many Tawny's throughout Europe, and the bird at Loop Head yesterday was clearly this species and a great find by Tony. (1st Clare record ?) Interestingly this bird turned up in the exact same location on the side of the lighthouse as the pipit in October 1995.
Tawny Pipit at Loop Head Lighthouse John N Murphy