Sunday 22 March 2015

Richard's Pipit: A Raptor's Repast

I blame the over zealous, violently vexed Reed Bunting! The Richard’s Pipit at Newhaven, East Sussex didn’t stand a chance. We arrived at the Ouse Estuary Project at Denton a bit before midday yesterday and moseyed on over to join a couple of other birders/photographers watching the Pipit. Having grabbed a few record shots, we were just about to set up the scope when the Pipit vanished. Mild confusion and careful searching ensued....and....Fast forward half an hour and the bird reappeared (thank goodness), on the same bank (ok), and worked its way north around the slope. It eventually ended up on the top of a grassy bank with a thick hedge behind it. If you are a Richard’s Pipit, take note, this is a bad idea...very bad….

Just before Midday: Alive Richard's Pipit

Out from the hedge came a disgruntled male Reed Bunting. He was keen to assert his territory and, as the birds tussled mid-air, just a metre or so above the bank, there was a Whoosh! and that was it! The ubiquitous(ish) Reed Bunting got away. The national rarity got snaffled by a flipping Sparrowhawk! My friend and I were the only ones to witness it and were standing there in disbelief, asking each other, “Did it get the Pipit?!”, when another hopeful observer arrived. We told him the Terrible Tale and, together, we walked towards the area where the Sparrowhawk had gone down. The bird flew up, still holding the obvious, bulky Pipit in its talons and made for the hedge along the Seaford Road. The last we saw of the Richard’s Pipit, its head was hanging limp and its still-warm body squished in the grip of a raptor.

40 mins later: Dead Richard's Pipit

As if to somehow compensate for rare Pipit deaths in the morning, the afternoon was filled with Rock Pipits. 12 or more along the Cuckmere River by Seven Sisters Country Park. Those and a pair of Stonechats were a more cheerful end to the day.

Post Script: It transpires that the “hopeful observer” to arrive just moments after the Pipit was taken was Arthur Greenslade, a keen Wildlife Photographer. When the Sparrowhawk went up with its prey, he was able to get the following photograph, which he tweeted last night. It’s a really superb record of the event.

I took the liberty of lightening the shadows and highlighting the Pipit. I hope Arthur doesn't mind.

Original Photograph by Arthur Greenslade (highlighting/circle added by me)


  1. we left about midday with the Richard's Pipit happily feeding on the bank. Must have just missed it's untimely demise. In a macabre sort of way I wish I had witnessed it!

    1. I know where you're coming from sh4rpy. No-one wants to see birds predated but, when it happens, the skill, speed and brutal finality are quite something to behold. It really was breathtaking.

  2. Hi, sorry that I have only just got back to you but I have only just found your msg on Facebook. I'm quite happy for you to use my picture I was just lucky to be at the right place at the right time.

    Arthur Greenslade

    1. Many thanks, Arthur. I'm glad you got the message eventually. I was very glad you turned up when you did and achieved such an excellent record of the encounter ;o).


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