Abstract On 23rd October 2019, a large pipit Anthus sp. was discovered at Sennen, Cornwall, and remained at the site until 14th November 2019. Although the appearance of the bird was felt by observers to most closely resemble Richard’s Pipit A. richardi, the flight call was incorrect for this species. The bird was tentatively identified as a Paddyfield Pipit A. rufulus – potentially the first record of this species for Europe – based on the analysis of sound recordings. Subsequent analysis of photographs and, crucially, DNA recovered from faeces confirmed that the bird was indeed a Paddyfield PipitThe range of the Paddyfield Pipit extends from the Indian subcontinent east to the Lesser Sundas and it has not been recorded from the Western Palearctic, the closest observations being two extralimital records from the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula. Therefore, as the Cornish individual was a potential first record for Britain and the Western Palearctic, the British Ornithologists’ Union Records Committee (BOURC) had to carefully consider its provenance to determine if it had a wild origin, a requirement for eligibility to Category A of the British List. After considerable deliberation, BOURC decided that there were sufficient doubts surrounding the bird’s origin and so placed the record in Category D. This paper describes the process that BOURC took to come to this conclusion.

 

The Paddyfield Pipit Anthus rufulus is a common and widespread resident across the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, from Pakistan to the Lesser Sundas (Alström & Mild 2003; Tyler 2020). The IOC World Bird List (Gill et al. 2021) recognises five subspecies: nominate A. rrufulus, from Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka to south China and Indochina; A. rmalayensis, in the Malaysian Peninsula, south Indochina, Sumatra, Java and Borneo; A. rlugubris, in the Philippines; A. ralbidus, in Sulawesi, Bali and west Lesser Sundas; and A. rmedius, in the east Lesser Sundas. In addition, Ali (1936) described the Paddyfield Pipits of Travancore and Cochin, southern India, as the subspecies A. r. ‘waitei’, but this is now synonymised with A. rrufulus (Alström & Mild 2003). 

Although the Paddyfield Pipit is widely described as a resident species (Alström & Mild 2003; Rasmussen & Anderton 2012), migratory movements, such as altitudinal or partial migration, have been reported (Ali & Ripley 1998; Grimmett et al. 1998); however, the evidence for this is conflicting or incomplete. 

The Cornish Paddyfield Pipit

Three similar species of pipit – Richard’s Pipit A. richardi, Blyth’s Pipit A. godlewskii and Tawny Pipit A. campestris – are rare vagrants or scarce migrants to Britain. Collectively referred to as ‘large pipits’, these species have proved a considerable challenge to distinguish in the field in the past (Williamson 1963; Grant 1972). However, refinement of field-identification criteria and a better understanding of vocalisations now means that most birds can be identified with relative ease, although this is not true of all individuals (López-Velasco et al. 2012; Stoddart 2020). 

On 23rd October 2019, a large pipit was discovered at Sennen, Cornwall. Although it showed well to observers, it initially proved difficult to identify, not fitting the identification criteria of any of the expected three species, a problem exacerbated by its very bleached and worn feathers (plate 181 & 182; fig. 1). However, detailed examination of plumage and structure of the bird and evaluation of sonograms of flight calls suggested that it was a Paddyfield Pipit. This was later confirmed by DNA analysis. The bird remained at the site until 14th November 2019.

20220311-BB-May2022-181.jpg

181. Paddyfield Pipit Anthus rufulus, Sennen, Cornwall, November 2019. The active moult of the flight feathers and the bleached and worn outer primaries are apparent in these images. 

Mashuq Ahmad

20220311-BB-May2022-182.jpg

182. Paddyfield Pipit, Sennen, Cornwall, November 2019.

Mashuq Ahmad

Identification

Plumage features and structure
The following description is based on the comprehensive set of notes submitted to BBRC by Paul St Pierre, who found the bird.

The bird was a medium-sized pipit, intermediate in size between the smaller Meadow Pipit A. pratensis and the larger Richard’s Pipit, most similar in size to Blyth’s Pipit. Structurally, it was also closest to Blyth’s Pipit, being more compact than Richard’s Pipit, with a shorter hind claw and a thinner, longer-looking bill. 

Head
The crown was lightly streaked, most apparent in the centre of the crown. The chin and throat were pale off-white, and the bird had a weak malar stripe that connected to light streaking across the upper breast overlaying some buff-coloured areas. 

Its face showed an indistinct loral stripe between the eye and bill. A pale supercilium was present from the bill to the nape. The darker upper half of the ear-coverts contrasted with the lower half, making the supercilium pronounced.

Upperparts
The nape and mantle were plainer and colder [than the wings], with the streaking on the back mottled and indistinct. This contrasted with the warmer, rufous wing-coverts and tertials, and the edges of the primaries. Some photographic images suggested a buff fringe to some median coverts but others suggested a much warmer colour that did not contrast with the other wing feathers. However, this feature was not noted in the field.

The tail appeared short, most apparent [when the bird was] on the ground, although the feather moult [see later] may have exaggerated this. The outer two tail-feathers showed white edges that ran parallel to the shaft and extended to the base of the tail, a feature of Richard’s Pipit and unlike typical Blyth’s Pipit.

Underparts
The underparts were pale off-white with some buff smudges in the upper breast and flanks, lacking the more extensive buff colour seen on Blyth’s Pipits. The upper breast was lightly streaked, with the remainder of the underparts unstreaked, including the lower flanks.

Bare parts
The legs were long and pink. [The bird had] a relatively short hind claw. The bill appeared longer and thinner than that of Richard’s Pipit; however, the moulting feathers around the base of the bill may have exaggerated this impression. The lower mandible and part of the upper mandible were pink, and the bill had a dark tip. The eyes were black.

20191127-BB-May2022-fig4.jpg

Fig. 1. Paddyfield Pipit Anthus rufulus, Sennen, Cornwall, October–November 2019. 

Martin Elliott

Analysis of flight calls
The bird had a distinctive, disyllabic ‘chup… chup’ flight call, which some observers noted was different from the sparrow-like ‘shreeep’ of Richard’s Pipit and the ‘chep’ of Blyth’s Pipit. Recordings of the call were sent to Magnus Robb, who was the first to identify the bird as a Paddyfield Pipit (Robb 2019). Magnus showed that the flight call of the Sennen pipit was similar in duration to that of Blyth’s Pipit although much higher pitched, with sonograms of the calls showing a distinct difference in the shape of the call note, but matched the call of Paddyfield Pipit from the species’ native range (figs. 2 & 3).

Screenshot 2022-04-28 at 19.50.54.png

Fig. 2. Sonogram demonstrating the span of the fundamental at 3 kHz, ‘A’, Blyth’s Pipit Anthus godlewskii(left two calls), Goa, India, 10th November 2001 (Killian Mullarney); and the Sennen Paddyfield Pipit (right two calls), Sennen, Cornwall, 24th October 2019 (Mashuq Ahmad). 

Screenshot 2022-04-28 at 19.51.52.png

Fig. 3. Sonogram demonstrating the span of the fundamental harmonic at 6 kHz, ‘B’, and the distance to the second harmonic, ‘C’. Sennen Paddyfield Pipit (left), Sennen, Cornwall, 24th October 2019 (Mashuq Ahmad); Paddyfield Pipit (middle), Goa, India, 16th January 2013 (Arnoud B. van den Berg); African Pipit A. cinnamomeus (right), Free State, South Africa, 17th January 2013 (Sander Bot).

One potential confusion species was African Pipit A. cinnamomeus, which has flight calls much closer to those of Paddyfield Pipit than either Richard’s or Blyth’s Pipit, but Magnus demonstrated that there was a consistent difference between the calls of African Pipit and both Paddyfield Pipit and the Sennen pipit: at 6 kHz, the width of the first harmonic is wider than the distance between the first harmonic and the ‘tail’ of the second harmonic in African Pipit, whereas the opposite is the case in Paddyfield Pipit and the Sennen pipit. 

DNA analysis
DNA was recovered from faecal samples and analysed by Thomas Shannon at Aberdeen University. A 450-base-pair (bp) DNA fragment of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene was successfully amplified and shown to be identical in sequence to two DNA sequences of the nominate subspecies from the Western Ghats, southern India, and very similar to a sequence from a bird of the subspecies A. f. lugubris from the Philippines (fig. 4). The next closest matches were Richard’s Pipit and African Pipit, both at least 5 bp different. Blyth’s Pipit was 7 bp different and Tawny Pipit was at least 25 bp different (Thomas Shannon pers. comm.). 

Screenshot 2022-04-28 at 19.55.24.png

Fig. 4. Phylogenetic comparison of a 450-base-pair DNA sequence of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene from various pipits of the genus Anthus and the Dunnock Prunella modularis as an outgroup. The DNA sequence of the Sennen individual (AR01) was identical to two sequences from A. rufulus rufulus, and very similar to another from A. r. lugubris, identifying it as a Paddyfield Pipit. That the sequence was identical to those of two A. r. rufulus suggests that the Sennen bird was of the nominate subspecies.

Assessing the provenance of the Cornish bird

Feather moult and wear
The bird was undergoing a complete moult, actively moulting its inner primaries. The as-yet-unmoulted outer primaries were strongly bleached and abraded.

Adult Paddyfield Pipits undergo a complete post-breeding moult while young birds undergo either a partial or a complete moult (Alström & Mild 2003). Thus, the fact that the bird was undertaking a complete moult was not significant in ageing the individual.

Opinion was expressed that the heavily worn outer primary feathers indicated that the bird was likely to be an adult (2CY+). However, this analysis was carried out in comparison with Richard’s Pipit, a long-distance Palearctic migrant that breeds during the short boreal summer at high latitudes (Dufour et al. 2021). In contrast, Paddyfield Pipit is a tropical resident species with a much longer breeding period, from November to July or even September (Ali 1936; Alström & Mild 2003), with juveniles fledging in India as early as January (https://ebird.org/checklist/S42088379). Therefore, comparisons of the state of plumage bleaching and wear between the two congeners was problematic owing to their radically different breeding schedules. 

BOURC felt that an early hatched 1CY (i.e. an individual that had hatched early in 2019) could not be distinguished from an adult based on the state of the bird’s plumage. Thus, the bird was aged by BOURC as a 1CY+, i.e. age unknown. However, during the BOURC assessment, the bird was considered as an adult for the purposes of comparison with vagrant Asian passerines in Europe in autumn as, even if the bird was in fact a 1CY, the worn state of the plumage indicated that it had not fledged recently. Thus, it wasn’t undergoing a post-juvenile movement as is the case with the majority of 1CY vagrants that reach Britain in their first autumn of life.

Heavily damaged or clipped feathers could indicate that a bird had been kept in captivity, and so the state of the Sennen pipit’s plumage was suggested by some as potential evidence of a recent period in confinement. However, examples of wild birds showing similar feather damage to the Sennen bird were located and the precise nature of the worn tips indicated that they had not been cut by humans. BOURC therefore concluded that the condition of the bird was notable but not an indication of either a wild or a captive origin.

20191112-BB-May2022-183.jpg

183. Paddyfield Pipit, Sennen, Cornwall, October 2019. 

Michael McKee

Location and timing of occurrence 
In late autumn, the Penwith peninsula of southwest Cornwall is a focal point for many birds that are moving southwest through Britain, both regular passage migrants and vagrants. Thus, the location is in an established area for vagrant passerines. Indeed, the Paddyfield Pipit was found on the same day and in the same field as a vagrant American Buff-bellied Pipit A. r. rubescens

The Paddyfield Pipit was discovered on 23rd October, an optimal time for vagrant Asian passerines to be found in Britain. Since 2000, five British firsts from Asia have been found between 15th and 23rd October, from Scotland to southwest England: Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata on 15th October 2004, Rufous-tailed Robin Larvivora sibilans on 23rd October 2004, Eastern Crowned Warbler Phylloscopus coronatus on 22nd October 2009, Chestnut Bunting E. rutila on 19th October 2015, and Pale-legged Leaf Warbler P. tenellipes on 21st October 2016 (following a Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler P. tenellipes/borealoides on 22nd October 2012). The Paddyfield Pipit was watched daily until 14th November but was not seen subsequently; circumstantial evidence suggested that it expired on this last date.

Migratory status of Paddyfield Pipit
There are conflicting published accounts describing the breeding range and migratory behaviour of Paddyfield Pipits, the resolution of which is crucial to understanding its vagrancy potential (Lees & Gilroy 2021). 

Although it can appear that ‘anything is possible’ when it comes to out-of-range bird occurrences, vagrancy does not occur randomly across the avian tree of life – it is more frequent in some families and rare in others. Foremost, species that are long-distance migrants occur as vagrants over far longer distances and with far higher frequency than short-distance migrants or residents (McLaren et al. 2006). Long-distance migrants possess eco-physiological adaptations such as longer wings and enhanced fat deposition that permit long flights, but resident and short-distance migrants do not have such adaptations and so cannot undertake long journeys (Lees & Gilroy 2021). Blem (1976) explored ‘migratory fattening’ and compared the seasonal fat cycles in three species of birds with different ecologies: White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys as an example of a temperate zone intercontinental migrant, House Sparrow Passer domesticus as a temperate zone resident, and Yellow-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus goiavier as a tropical resident. White-crowned Sparrows displayed dramatic ‘migratory fattening’ (increased fat deposits) prior to both their migrations whilst House Sparrows displayed gradual ‘winter fattening’ throughout autumn. Yellow-vented Bulbul did not deposit fat significantly and this can be expected to be the case for other tropical non-migratory species such as Paddyfield Pipit, making natural vagrancy unlikely.

Among the Holarctic pipits are many species that are both highly migratory and frequently recorded as vagrants. For example, Blyth’s Pipit, a Central Asian breeding species that winters mostly in the Indian subcontinenthas occurred as a vagrant east to Micronesia and west to Ireland and Portugal (Lees & VanderWerf 2011). 

Most published sources indicate that Paddyfield Pipit is a resident species showing little or no significant migration patterns. However, there are a number of conflicting and confusing reports around a population in eastern Afghanistan that is stated to be partially migratory, vacating the region in winter. These reports appear to come from late nineteenth-century surveys of the area: Swinhoe (1882) reported collecting two specimens during late April 1881 at Gatai and Chaman, in the southeast of the country; and St John (1889) collected one in Kandahar Province in June, describing it as a ‘summer visitor’. Whistler (1945) lists the Gatai specimen only, while acknowledging St John’s report, and surmises that the species ‘is doubtless a summer visitor’. However, the Swinhoe specimen, deposited at the Natural History Museum, Tring (NHMUK #1881.12.1.259) (plate 004), was reidentified as a Tawny Pipit when listed in Sharpe (1885). This correction appears not to have been widely acknowledged and was unknown to Whistler and several subsequent authors who reported the species from Afghanistan.

There are three other specimens from Afghanistan attributed to the Paddyfield Pipit, all collected by Walter Koelz and deposited in the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, USA: two females from Safed Sang, Ghazni Province, on 19th September 1919 (FMNH #43075 and #243076) and a female from Sabz Pass, Samangan Province, on 28th August 1928 (FMNH #243077). Charles Vaurie described many of Koelz’s specimens (held at AMNH, FMNH and UMMZ), but never published on the Motacillidae (Guy Kirwan in litt.). David Willard at FMNH measured the flattened wing chord (85.5 mm, 82.0 mm and 81.0 mm respectively) and hind claw length (8.5 mm, 7.9 mm and 7.9 mm) of these three specimens, which are a closer fit for the biometrics of Tawny Pipits from northwest India (wing 82–87 mm, hind claw 7.1–9.5 mm) than Paddyfield Pipits from northeast India (wing 73–79 mm, hind claw 10.8–14.2 mm). Furthermore, Tawny Pipit is mapped as a breeding bird in Afghanistan and would be an expected migrant during this season at these locations. No subsequent authors have reported Paddyfield Pipits from Afghanistan despite recent surveys (Busuttil & Ayé2009). A cursory examination of both reports and documented records with images and sound-recordings from Pakistan on eBird (n = 236 checklists recording the species of 7,440 total, 40 with media) do not indicate any seasonality, a pattern which is reinforced by quantitative analysis of eBird data (n = 1.5 million checklists) from neighbouring India (SoIB 2020). 

20220125-BB-May2022-184.jpg

184. Female Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris, specimen NHMUK #1881.12.1.259, collected at Gatai, Afghanistan, by Robert Swinhoe on 26th April 1881 and originally labelled as Paddyfield Pipit. This specimen has been widely cited as evidence of Paddyfield Pipit’s occurrence in Afghanistan and was the basis of Whistler’s (1945) assumption that the species was migratory in the country. Swinhoe’s determination of A. rufulus on his collector’s label can be seen to be crossed out in pencil and the bird has been relabelled as a Tawny Pipit. Who did this, when, and based on what information is unknown (A. Bond in litt.), but it occurred before the publication of Sharpe’s catalogue in 1885. 

Alex Bond © Natural History Museum, Tring

In conclusion, there is no confirmed evidence for Paddyfield Pipit occurring in Afghanistan and reports of partial or altitudinal migration in the literature seem to be based on the assumption that birds are present there. Therefore, we concur with the conclusions of others (Alström & Mild 2003; Rasmussen & Anderton 2012) that there is no evidence for migratory behaviour in the species anywhere in its range, although seasonal, geographically limited downslope movements in the Himalayan foothills remain a possibility. 

History and context of vagrancy in Paddyfield Pipits
Out-of-range Paddyfield Pipits have been observed west of the species’ usual range on a handful of occasions. The first Iranian records were of two individuals discovered at different localities on the same day in the Sarbaz valley, Sistan and Baluchestan Province, southeast Iran, on 12th December 2010 (Ayé et al. 2014). These locations are within 25 km of the border with Pakistan and approximately 500 km west of the mapped westernmost limit of the species’ range in the Indus Valley, Pakistan. Hence, it was speculated by Ayé et al.(2014) that these Iranian sightings might reflect a previously undetected range extension rather than vagrancy per se.

The first records for the Arabian Peninsula concerned singles at Hamraniyah, Ras al-Khaimah Emirate, United Arab Emirates, on 10th–26th November 2017, and at Wamm Farms, Fujairah Emirate, on 12th October 2018 (Campbell et al. 2020). These sightings were approximately 1,000 km west of the species’ usual range in Pakistan. 

Vagrancy in sedentary species is often associated with range expansions (Veit 2000; Lees & Gilroy 2021), so the observed relatively short-distance movements of Paddyfield Pipits to the Arabian Peninsula are perhaps predictable. Similar short-distance vagrancy to the Arabian Peninsula has been reported in other nominally resident species with a similar distribution, notably Red Collared Dove Streptopelia tranquebarica and Chestnut-tailed Starling Sturnia malabarica, along with records of partial migrants including Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopaceus and Common Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx varius (Porter & Aspinall 2013; Blair et al.2021). However, none of these species have occurred or would be expected to occur as vagrants to Europe. 

It is also possible that vagrancy in Paddyfield Pipits may be under-reported in comparison with species that are easier to identify, but correspondence with observers in Israel (Yoav Perlman in litt.) and South and Southeast Asia (James Eaton in litt.) suggest that extralimital Paddyfield Pipits are being looked for but are not being observed. 

Paddyfield Pipits are resident in the Oriental (Indomalayan) biogeographic realm. Virtually all other vagrant species to Europe are migratory species breeding in the Eastern Palearctic and migrating south to the Sino-Japanese and Oriental realms. The one exception to this observation is a record of Tickell’s Thrush Turdus unicolor, shot on Helgoland, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, on 15th October 1932. However, this species is a migrant, leaving its breeding grounds in the Himalayas to move as far south as southern India (SoIB 2020). Intriguingly, this individual was an adult male with atypical pigmentation and the record may merit reassessment by the German Rarities Committee (Haas 2012). 

Interesting comparison with the vagrancy status of Paddyfield Pipit is provided by the recent increased vagrancy observed by Ashy Drongo Dicrurus leucophaeus, a migratory species with a similar world distribution. Khil et al. (2019) listed at least 21 records from the ‘Greater’ Western Palearctic Region, including Iran and the Arabian Peninsula, all since 2006, including one as far west as Israel in December 2014. These were followed by another in northern Kazakhstan in 2019 and an astonishing extralimital record of one at Bleik, northwest Norway, in June 2019, although this record was accepted to Category D of the Norwegian List (Olsen 2022). Ashy Drongos of the western subspecies D. l. longicaudatus share a similar pattern of migratory behaviour to Tickell’s Thrushes, migrating south from the Himalayas to winter in lowland India and Sri Lanka. The recent series of vagrant records suggests a genuine change in behaviour, as this distinctive and visible species was unlikely to have been overlooked in the past. By contrast, natural vagrancy to Europe by Paddyfield Pipits would be highly unlikely given the species’ non-migratory behaviour.

Status in the wild-bird trade
One explanation for the presence of the Paddyfield Pipit at Sennen is that it escaped from captivity in Europe or was transported to western Europe as part of the captive-bird trade. Paddyfield Pipit was historically kept at London Zoo (ZIMS 2022) but Conde et al. (2011) found that none were registered at any zoo in the world, so an escape from an institution in Europe is unlikely. In contrast, Paddyfield Pipits were regularly offered for sale at bird markets in Hanoi, Vietnam, with 41 for sale across three bird markets in May 2007; during 2008–09, birds were found for sale in all eight of the markets surveyed, with at least 44 individuals recorded (Brooks-Moizer et al. 2008; Edmunds et al. 2011). Although the results of the genetic analysis indicate that Southeast Asia is unlikely to be the source of the Sennen individual, the presence of Paddyfield Pipits in trade indicates that the bird’s drab appearance is not a barrier to it being caught and sold. 

The volume of traded Asian birds in Europe has significantly decreased following the ban on the importation of wild-caught birds to Europe in 2006 (Commission Regulation 2007; Lees & Gilroy 2021) but there is still a remarkable range of species kept by private individuals in Europe. For example, a stock list from a bird trader in Belgium published in September 2020 included a diverse array of species, including ‘Siberian Goldfinch’Carduelis carduelis frigoris, Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria and Japanese Grosbeak E. personata. Furthermore, a montage of cage birds on view at the ‘Bird Experience Oirscot’ in the Netherlands in October 2019 included Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocoptes medius, Western Bluebird Sialia mexicana, Hermit Thrush Catharus guttatus and many others. Although there is no evidence that Paddyfield Pipits have been recently imported to western Europe, it is still possible that individuals may have been clandestinely exported from Asia. 

These examples illustrate that, although the challenge of ascertaining the origin of vagrants has become easier than it was during the height of the Asian–European bird trade, the problem of escapes has not disappeared, shown by known escapes in Britain of a White-crowned Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucopyga in Lincolnshire (Förschler et al. 2018) and a Godlewski's Bunting Emberiza godlewskii on the Isles of Scilly (http://scillyspider.blogspot.com/2019/04/escaped-godlewskis-bunting-on-scilly.html). It is also important to appreciate that, after escaping from captivity, such birds can disperse and move to the same locations as wild migrants and vagrants (England 1974; Lees & Gilroy 2021). 

Assisted passage 
Human transport infrastructure has long been recognised as a driver of extralimital bird occurrences; birds may alight and rest on ships at sea for anywhere from just a few seconds to several weeks, provided they can obtain sufficient food and shelter (Durand 1972). A wide diversity of species have been recorded as stowaways on ships, and include a Grey Heron Ardea cinerea being carried from Europe to North America, Snowy Sheathbills Chionis albus from Antarctica to Britain and Taiwan, and a flock of Iago Sparrows Passer iagoensis transported from Cape Verde to the Netherlands (Ebels et al. 2013; Lees & Gilroy 2021). It would take around 20 days to travel from India to Britain by boat. Small passerines have been recorded making journeys on board boats of a similar duration (Durand 1972). 

Another possibility is plane-assisted vagrancy. Records of unintentional transport of stowaway birds have included a Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura from the USA to London, Javan Myna Acridotheres javanicusfrom Singapore to London, and House Sparrow Passer domesticus from the USA to Australia (Lees & Gilroy 2021). 

Paddyfield Pipits are among the commonest species occurring on and around airfields and ports in their native range, and plane- or ship-assisted vagrancy and subsequent dispersal is a plausible hypothesis to explain the origin of an individual of the species in Europe. 

BOURC decision

Many BOURC decisions to accept records to Category A of the British List as genuine wild birds are straightforward, especially if the species in question shows a clear history of vagrancy well outside its range and there is little evidence of escapes from captivity (BOU 2018). The decision on the Cornish Paddyfield Pipit was, in contrast, far from straightforward. 

Ornithologists carry with them biases concerning likelihood of vagrancy in different types of birds: waterfowl, widely kept in captivity, are often viewed with scepticism, whilst nondescript species from families which are frequent vagrants are often viewed more positively. The same bias is true for the expectations about the optimal time of year and locations where vagrant birds might be found. Westernmost Cornwall in late October would seem an ideal place and date to find a new species of pipit for Britain. 

However, there is no evidence that Paddyfield Pipits undergo long-distance movements, a feature strongly associated with extreme vagrancy in birds. Indeed, there is no evidence that they perform any regular migratory movements at all. Rather, the Paddyfield Pipit is a highly sedentary tropical species for which there are records of just two instances of significant extralimital movements of around 1,000 km to the Arabian Peninsula. In this context, it seems unlikely that records of species with a similar distribution, history of short-distance vagrancy and lack of reports from Europe – such as Red Collared Dove or Chestnut-tailed Starling – would be considered seriously by birders as firsts for Britain. 

That said, there is no suggestion of Paddyfield Pipits being kept in captivity in Europe and assisted passage, either by boat or by plane, will always be exceptional. Hence, there is no satisfactory explanation of how a Paddyfield Pipit came to be present in a field in southwest Cornwall in 2019. Natural vagrancy, escape from an illegal dealer or assisted passage all seem equally improbable based on present knowledge. Of these explanations, most BOURC members decided that natural occurrence was highlighly unlikely, but Category D commanded a majority of votes. This was because there was a consensus by the committee that the uncertainty surrounding the significance of the recent records in the Arabian Peninsula, coupled with concerns that the species might be under-recorded in its native range, merited acknowledging. Thus, BOURC opted to place the species in Category D to allow another review of the Sennen record and the species in the future, if more evidence becomes available.

Acknowledgments

We thank the committee members of both BBRC and BOURC for their consideration of this record on which the contents of this paper are based. We thank Per Alström, Raffael Ayé, James Eaton, Tim Inskipp, Peter Kaestner, Guy Kirwan and Yoav Perlman for correspondence regarding the status of Paddyfield Pipit in Asia. Alex Bond kindly traced and measured the Swinhoe specimens at the Natural History Museum, Tring, and John Bates, Mary Hennen and Dave Willard did the same for the Koelz specimens deposited at the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, USA. We thank Magnus Robb and The Sound Approach for the sonograms and Thomas Shannon and Martin Collinson for the genetic analysis.

Alexander C. Lees, Chris Batty and Christopher J. McInerny on behalf of BOURC, c/o School of Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ; e-mail [email protected]

 

Alexander Lees is a member of BOURC and a Senior Lecturer in conservation biology at Manchester Metropolitan University, working primarily on avian responses to global change, especially in the Neotropics. Chris Batty is a lifelong birder who served on BBRC for 12 years and is now a member of BOURC. Chris McInerny is a Reader at the University of Glasgow, Secretary to both BOURC and the Scottish Birds Records Committee, and works on a wide range of natural history, but particularly birds and reptiles in Scotland.

 

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Volume: 
Issue 5
Start Page: 
250
Authors: 
Alexander C. Lees, Chris Batty and Christopher J. McInerny, on behalf of BOURC
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Subject: 

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