Average Birding

Probable Water Pipit

November. The month where it really gets properly dark and cold, and, if you did all your winter birding at the beginning of the year, there's not a lot to be offered in the way of ticks.

Four weeks of drought and I'm off on a fools errand to try to discern a Water Pipit from a Rock Pipit at Barnes WWT. Desperate times.

Pronoun guidance: AB1 is desperate. This post covers the events of November 18th, 2018. N.B Cover image is a Meadow Pipit!

Barnes by 10 for a bonus

I get to Barnes with remarkable speed; there before 10am - that's a tremendous achievement for a Sunday morning. I walk in with a skip in my step, happy in the knowledge that the hordes of more touristic visitors will still be struggling to put their wellies on.

Now, how to take advantage? Well, it's November, and it's cold. This can only mean Bittern. My pipit mission is likely to be found in the tower hide; I shall take a leisurely path there via the Dulverton and WWF hides. Dulverton delivers - there's a bittern poking about in the reed bed almost directly opposite. Brilliant. I unpack the scope to take a better look at it. As I do so, a giant white bird lands behind one of the islands between me and the reed bed. Great White Egret! I've not seen one at Barnes before, how exciting. Worthy of a Birdguides submission, at least.

Sunny phone-scoped bittern

This, of course, scotches any opportunity for an extended stay for our oversized white friend. I get to share the treat with a couple of other birders who turn up looking for Bittern: "There's one there, and look, also, Great White Egret" but that's about it. The egret seems unimpressed with its island, and shortly flies off over the hide. Another birder enters the hide "Was that Great White Egret?" "Yes" "Balls. Oh well, at least I saw it go".

To the tower

I make an exit, pay the swiftest of visits to WWF hide (the least productive of the whole reserve), then head up to the top floor of the tower. This is probably one of my favourite places in London; a sociable birding hub, rarely empty, almost never dull. I am occupant three or four; perfect.

There isn't a lot about, mind. The usual one-or-two wadery subjects are present on the scrape, which provides a brief bit of interest. I could try and play the Jack Snipe game, but it's not really what I'm here for. I do need to watch the areas around the water's edge, but thankfully the pipits are going to be in the more grassy open bits (rather than crouching in the undergrowth) by default.

There are some pipits. I have no idea whether they are Rock (its very difficult not to mime an air guitar when considering this bird) or Water. Hrmm. I consult the bird book. Water pipit is browner rather than greyer. Not quite as bright as meadow, though. I stare at the pipit. I stare at the bird book. No, I really don't know. I'm going to need assistance.

Thankfully, assistance has now had its breakfast, grabbed a mid morning coffee from the cafe and, empowered by these actions, started to arrive in force. I relinquish a prime seat (good view of the scrape and the grazing marsh, room for scope) and try to involve myself in the gossip. "Someone reported a Great Egret"/"Yes, that was me!"/"Oh, where was it? Is it still about?"/"I'm afraid it buggered off a good forty minutes ago, sorry"/"Ah well". My credentials confirmed, I shut up and listen as the pros do their own survey.

Water Pipit. Maybe.

Talk eventually comes around to Water Pipit; apparently located somewhere on the grassy causeway that designates the left hand edge of the wader scrape. More precisely than that is problematic. Thankfully, the hide is basically full, and I can rely on at least one person that is less shy but equally nonplussed to pipe up "where's this pipit then?" to elicit further directions.

"Right on the edge, making its way from front to back". Indeed, there is a pipity thing bouncing along the water line. Can I convince myself it is a Water Pipit, though? Well, yes, it is brown. Is it too brown though? Oh dear. This is why AB2 hates pipits. I take another look in the book in search of inspiration. Nothing doing. Oh well, nothing for it.

"Would someone mind educating me as to why that's a Water Pipit rather than a Rock Pipit?" I venture. "Well, Rock Pipit would be much greyer, and it's not a warm enough brown for Meadow". Great. "Also - can you see the two lighter bars on the wing? That's not a bad indication". Better! Although not really supported by the book. Or, indeed, unanimously supported by the hide. Colouration is much more the preferred diagnostic of the crowd. I'll take their word for it that it's Water Pipit. I think it's brown enough. Maybe. Its getting too rowdy in here for me in any case, so we'll claim that as a tick and make an exit.

The remainder of the visit is less vexing, but not entirely unremarkable. In the Headley hide, a smaller group are transfixed by Barnes's Best View Of Bittern - no more than 5m from the hide, one is poking about just inside the reedbed. Even at this range you have to focus to see it, but once you do; what an absolute treat. This isn't the first time I've seen a Bittern in this hide at this range, but the previous time was so long ago I'd started to consider dropping Headley from my default Barnes walk route. All, now, is forgiven.

A quick visit to Wildside is all that remains to be done; this yields no further excitement, and a retreat back to the bus stop follows.