Monday 9 November 2020

Tree and Red-throated Pipits

 It's been 16 years since I last saw a Tree Pipit in Japan, that also on Hegura, though I did manage to miss one by only seconds on Tsushima in spring. I almost missed this one too!

I came across a pipit in the morning on the open concrete area at the north end of the harbour and dismissed it as a first autumn Red-throated. In my defense it's a favourite spot for Red-throated Pipits, Tree Pipit superficially looks like a first autumn Red-throated and I was chatting at the time. Fortunately I got another chance when I ran into the same bird again in the late afternoon, this time at the opposite end of the harbour. It dropped down from one of the small ornamental pines onto the lawn at the ferry terminal and immediately vigorously pumped its tail. It had to be an Olive-backed Pipit, right? Getting my bins on it, the heavily streaked mantle immediately knocked that idea on the head but there was no thought of Red-throated this time; upgrade to Tree Pipit. What a difference a tail pump makes. Once on the deck I initially picked up a supercillium drop but then it seemed to disappear. It was very subtle and the same 'now you see it, now you don't' occurred in the photographs I took too.

The previous bird I'd found so long ago was instantly recognizable as something different because it was such a pale, almost sandy coloured bird, whereas this individual was much darker and made me  feel a little better about my misidentification earlier in the day.

Brazil's Birds of East Asia treats OBP as the potential confusion species with Tree, which is fair enough it being a common species across Japan as a whole. However the text completely ignores the far more similar first autumn Red-throated. 

I saw several first autumn Red-throated Pipits on Hegura mid-month but the only bird this trip was an unseen fly-over calling. So I'll compare this Tree Pipit with first autumns I've seen in this and previous Octobers.

Tree Pipit. The contrast between heavy breast markings and fine flank dashes are distinctive however Red-throated does have fine streaks low on the flanks but also a bolder line higher on the flanks close to the wing. The very stout, deep-based bill is obvious here, the supercillium drop is far less so. 

Red-throated Pipit. Fine flank dashes low on the flanks but broad, heavy markings above. The bill is very fine compared to Tree, the ear coverts more uniform. This individual shows paler braces.

Tree Pipit. Lack of braces, stout bill and inconspicuous supercillium.

Tree Pipit. Rather plain rump and uppertail coverts.

Red-throated. Heavy flank streaking and plain ear coverts. Note the very dark-centred uppertail coverts and more distinctly marked rump.

Perhaps it's worth posting my old digiscoped image of the Tree Pipit I found 16 years ago to show how different Tree Pipits can appear first glance and more pertinently or how some might easily catch the eye while others could be overlooked. In fact, looking more closely, the markings are actually very similar and it's only a matter of colour saturation that gives the superficial appearance of being rather different.

Tree Pipit. An overall paler individual with unmarked rump and fine flank dashes. 


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