I received a text from Gary Pullan, late this morning, advising that Mark Spirito had just seen a large pipit with a ‘sparrow-like call’ to the right of the concrete track, which runs north-south along the top of Borough Hill. With Richard’s mooted in the text I sent a few texts and put the news out via Twitter before setting off to see if I could locate it, phoning Mark on the way in order to get further details. Although he was no longer on site, he subsequently advised that he had picked it up in flight after hearing a distinctive, though unfamiliar, call and that the bird had landed at the golf course end of the hill where, after another brief flight view, he had been unable to relocate it.
Upon arrival at Borough Hill I joined Chris Coe and Allan Maybury who were already on the concrete track. After a briefly watching a nearby Stonechat, we decided to split up to make a sweep of the general area. With Borough Hill summit currently ungrazed and overgrown the going was not easy underfoot. We covered the area to the right of the track as well as to the immediate left of the track, right down to the golf course perimeter fence and then back again to the compound. Chris and Allan departed and I was about to do the same when Mark phoned to say he had listened to online examples of the call of Richard’s Pipit and he was now confident that the Borough Hill pipit was a Richard’s Pipit.
I changed my mind about leaving and decided to have another go at trying to relocate the bird, this time concentrating well to the left of the track. After a while I reached the hedge which crosses the hill before the golf course, having put up a few Skylarks and Meadow Pipits on the way. I was about to turn back when a large pipit came up from the grass about 25 metres away and, remaining silent, it flew little more than 100 metres to alight in full view on top of the hedge which runs alongside the western perimeter track.
Brief ‘scope views revealed a lanky, large-billed, long-legged, long-tailed pipit which exhibited all the usual features of Richard’s. It was looking good! Viewing was rapidly curtailed, however, by two passing dog-walkers who flushed the bird over the hedge and I watched as it disappeared out of site. Quickly crossing to the hedge I entered the area beyond it via a small stile and unintentionally flushed the bird from the top of a low bush nearby. Fortunately if flew no more than 50 metres, uttering a single rasping “schreeep” as it did so. It was indeed a Richard’s Pipit! It pitched down in a rough area close to an Oak tree and I made no further attempt to pursue it.
I made a few phone calls before being rejoined on site by Chris Coe, who was just in time to see the bird as it broke cover, calling, having been flushed by another dog-walker. Unfortunately this is an occupational hazard at this site which is popular with other members of the public! The Richard’s Pipit flew back toward the main hill summit but it remained in the general area where it was seen again by several other birders, including Dave James and Graham Martin, until at least 15.45, when it was seen flying toward the main car park.
This is only the 8th County record, the previous records were in 1883 (2), 1966, 1968, 1994 (2) and 1995 – the latter having also been at Borough Hill on 10th October.
Full marks to Mark Spirito for finding this bird! An excellent county record! If anyone is able to obtain any photographs I would be pleased to receive them … but it is always going to be difficult in the long, long grass of Borough Hill.