Saturday 25 January 2014


There are only two pipits the visitor can realistically expect in Kansai, Buff-bellied and Olive-backed. Buff-bellied is common, sometimes very common, in winter at Ogura. It can be found in any arable areas though usually at low density. Singles aren't always easy to find, fly-overs are as frequent as birds on the ground but concentrations gather in suitable fields and, like White Wagtails, flocks will follow a plough. I've always had an eye out for rubescens but as yet I've never seen anything that even aroused suspicion. Olive-backed always strikes me as incredibly loyal to favourite locations and these can be surprisingly small parks or shrine and temple gardens. In such places they are frequently under pines with little or no understorey. In Kyoto city the Imperial Palace is the best place to look. They can be just as loyal in forests or riverside areas and can be found at the same spot visit after visit despite what appears to be extensive suitable habitat.

In the Kyoto area Red-throated is a very uncommon winter visitor, I sometimes come across them at Ogura (exceptionally even 2-3 in a day) and I've seen them in Osaka and around Lake Biwa too. I don't normally see spring migrants here even though they can be very common on off-shore islands. Presumably the Japan Sea side of the region will be much better for them on passage.

Other species are rare; there was a Pechora along the Yodo River between Kyoto and Osaka for a couple of weeks in October 2012, a long-suppressed wintering Meadow Pipit at Ogura 2011 and I found a Richard's in the fields in Mie late one autumn. Over-wintering pipits probably don't get as much scrutiny as they deserve and are well worth checking for rare species.

Single Richard's are the norm on the islands but I've seen parties of 5-6 a couple of times. These birds on Tsushima (Nagasaki), 1 May 2012.

A wintering Richard's Pipit in Kyushu, January 2015.

Meadow Pipit at Ogura, 19 March 2011. The bird had been there for a couple of months before the news began to leak out. Even then I didn't get to hear of it immediately and when I did I was in two minds whether to go after work or hang on till the following morning when I'd have plenty of time. In the end I took all my gear work and got there late afternoon and joined quite a crowd gathered from all over Japan. It was as well I did go as it was never seen again!

I saw this Tree Pipit briefly on a beach on Hegura, 19 September 2004, but it didn't hang around.

One of two Olive-backed I originally identified as Tree in the harbour on Hegurajima, May 2014.

An OBP in favourite habitat. Senri Park, Osaka 15 February 2009.

Adult Red-throated on Hegura, this back in the good old days before the school closed and the playing field was still mown regularly, 9 October 2009.

First winter Red-throated on Hegura, 7 October 2011.

A winter Red-throated Pipit in Kyushu January 2015, plumage resembling breeding. The upperparts of the same bird below.  

A much more strikingly marked Red-throated Pipit together with the previous bird.

An October Buff-bellied (japonicus) on Hegura.

A standard japonicus in Mie, 7 January 2012.

A spring (10 April 2014) Buff-bellied coming into breeding plumage. Note the oddly hooked upper mandible.

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