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Wednesday, 7 October 2015

More on the Olive-backed Pipit

An Olive-backed Pipit was found on Bolus Head on 30th September (see the post HERE about that period on Bolus Head). Calls of Tree and Olive-backed Pipit are almost indistinguishable, which combined with the bright sunlight and brief appearance of the bird, led to the initial ID as a Tree Pipit. Thankfully, thanks to the sharp eyes of Dave McAdams, examination of further photos confirmed it as an an Olive-backed Pipit, the first for Kerry and only the eighth for Ireland.

The original photo is shown below. Despite the harsh sunlight, it showed just enough detail for Dave to comment, “I thought some aspects of it odd for Tree Pipit, reminding me much more of Olive-backed”. 

Olive-backed Pipit, Bolus Head, 30th September 2015 (M.O’Clery).
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Dave further commented that the supercilium seemed bicolored and very white with subdued streaking on the mantle, and that the general coloration was, “saturated, almost greenish”, again a pro-Olive-backed feature rather than Tree Pipit, and that the bill base looked finer than that of a Tree Pipit.

Luckily, more photos had been taken during the brief encounter with the bird, and last night were hastily downloaded and emailed around. There were 11 which were usable, all taken within 80 or 90 seconds or so, almost the sum total of the sighting, though the bird was seen and heard again briefly in flight twice shortly after, and heard calling but not seen once again, a few minutes later - and that was it, despite much searching.

The initial view, Bolus Head, 30th September 2015 (M.O’Clery). Perhaps unusually for an Olive-backed Pipit, rather than being in a woodland context, this bird, after initially being flushed from the driveway of a cottage, landed a little further along the road and fed for a while before flying up, with many Meadow Pipits, and landed again on open hillside.

Olive-backed Pipit, Bolus Head, 30th September 2015 (M.O’Clery).

Olive-backed Pipit, Bolus Head, 30th September 2015 (M.O’Clery).

With several others invited to comment on the photos, the consensus was that the 11 photos in combination, consistently showed the features of an Olive-backed Pipit.

Olive-backed Pipit, Bolus Head, 30th September 2015 (M.O’Clery).

An analysis of these from Dave listed the pertinent features visible in the photos.

• The striking, bicolored supercilium, rich buff in front of the eye and very clean and white above and behind the eye, the rear part of which is bordered above by a narrow blackish streak (visible in several shots). In fact, in the top photo you can see that the fore part of the supercilium is almost rufous in tone - this is often the richest/brightest coloration on an Olive-backed Pipit.   

• The very prominent ear spot (in a few of the shots).

• The soft and subdued mantle streaking, showing relatively low contrast with the ground colour - consistently so in all of the shots. 

• Tertial fringes showing little contrast (perhaps most evident in the bottom photo)

• The fine-based bill (e.g. in the top photo and the one immediately below).

• The saturated, greenish tone of the upperparts.

Olive-backed Pipit, Bolus Head, 30th September 2015 (M.O’Clery).

Olive-backed Pipit, Bolus Head, 30th September 2015 (M.O’Clery).

 The 2013 Irish Rare Bird Report commented on the occurrences of the seven Irish records to date, saying, 'The timing [of one on Inishmore, Galway, 22nd to 29th October 2013] was typical – five of the previous six were also found in October. The sole exception was one in Cobh, County Cork, in January 1991. The first was found in Wexford [Great Saltee Island] in 1978, and the remaining records were all in Cork, clustered between 1990 and 1993. On a technicality, there have been no records on the mainland, although those driving to Cobh could be forgiven for forgetting that it is situated on Great Island!'

Thus the Bolus Head record is also the first for September (just) and the first Irish mainland record.

Many thanks to Dave McAdams, Killian Mullarney, Davey Farrar and Eric Dempsey for expert comments.