Buff-bellied Pipit on the Wirral

But which one?

by Phil Woolen and MG

Buff-bellied Pipit PW 2 211213 PW

Thankfully I am ill at home. Only way I can keep up with young guns with their tweets, sharp questioning observations and media savvy ways. I had clocked the wonderful find of Eddie Williams earlier today. An (American) Buff-bellied Pipit back in my old home county of Cheshire :). Steve Williams put out some early photos which were a little disconcerting so I rang Phil Woolen…

Eddie found the bird yesterday (20th Dec.) and full credit for exploring and pursuing the ID. Lively Wirral pub chatter yesterday evening between birding colleagues produced a good turn out this morning; Eddie and others confirmed the identification to their satisfaction: It was indeed a Buff-bellied Pipit.

Back to those initial photos. Itan be a nightmare to get photos at Denhall Lane because you are looking straight into the low sun. Steve did well to get any images and some of the issues are due to back-lighting. Quietly waiting for Phil to send his pics- Next Gen birders woke up before I was ready… and began ‘twittering’ all the right question ūüėČ , the same ones I had.

Phil got some very cool photos. These seem to revolve it, even though it’s not always easy- to separate the two taxa, while many are distinctive, there is some convergence of characters. Have a look:

Buff-bellied Pipit PW 1 211213Buff-bellied Pipit PW 3 211213Buff-bellied PipitPW110 211213_1

Buff-bellied Pipit PW8 211213

Overall I see this bird has legs too dark for most japonicus, even though they flash paler in back-lit sunshine. I want nice pale things. The median covert bar is paler but not really dazzling white. The underpart streaking is definitely on the browner side and fine from side on (not really blackish looking). But then the head on shot is scary- does look like the spotting is blackish and spotty. However to claim a first for Britain (which a japonicus would be) from those photos I would want a blacker/thicker malar line, whiter looking supercilium, colder darker looking upperparts with just tad more streaking  and some more contrast below being colder and whiter looking.

American Buff- bellied¬†Pipit¬†¬†‘rubescens’ is what I think it is on¬†balance, perhaps a first winter bird that is now a little worn and faded. Always¬†noting the dangers of¬†commenting on¬†photos¬†of birds you have not seen and how easy it is to be misdirected. Ideally I should see it in the field, but I am not allowed out ūüôĀ . My limited experience of calls is that rubescens more often has raspy Grey¬†Wagtail-like¬†element whereas that japonicus in Israel sounded indistinguishable from Meadow Pipit. So have a look at the pics. Better still go see it – and make you’re own mind up. Well done Eddie! Thanks to Phil W. and Steve Williams (who sent his images while watching the Liverpool match. What mad world we live in!).¬†Oh and the Next Geners – with all the right Q’s.

Buff-bellied Pipit PW10 211213 PW


5 thoughts on “Buff-bellied Pipit on the Wirral

  1. linosabirding

    Woowww what a bird…!! Still searching for one of those (either) to find in Italy…not yet succeded !

    I am quite intrigued by its looking , as it looks to me closer to a least marked and lest patterned japonicus…. however, the bill seems to be to short, narrow and delicate for an average japonicus …but, yet, it would be great if the guys run there and obtain better photos (in different ligth) and sound recordings etc etc
    Very nice compliments


  2. Harry Hussey

    I’d agree that this looks like a rubescens. I’ve never seen japonicus, but I’d expect that form to show paler legs (ideally), be whiter below, with a more ‘solidly’ blackish malar stripe, whiter supercilium, perhaps the flank streaks would be a little bolder also. I know that a bird which wintered at Pilmore in Co. Cork in 2007-08 did look paler than expected in some images, due to a combination of ambient light and plumage wear, but that bird gave typical rubescens calls and I even seem to recall that, based on a pic by the finder, the patterns of the various rectrices suited rubescens but not (typical) japonicus.

  3. Julian Hough

    This fits with rubescens rather than japonicus for the reasons Martin mentioned. The lack of a big blobby malar stripe and a bird that perhaps should be a little more contrasting reinforce it as pro- rubescens. I assume as they wear in winter, the flank streaking often becomes a little more delineated..as it does on this bird. As for calls, rubescens has a typical call of “pip-it”, “pip-it” and sometimes a run of notes that vaguely recalls a Blue Tit’s flight note. I don’t know japonicus at all except from images. What a great find!! Boys did well!

  4. Kalin Velev

    First of all I want to thank you for the great blog and for the sharing of such interesting observations and knowledge.
    About the pipit: looks good for japonicus for me, but more photos will be helpful for the correct ID.
    I don`t have experience with this species, but from the Internet photo collections I marked these differences for japonicus:
    – very bold and large throat patch,
    – extensive streaking up to the vent,
    – very pale /white/ median and greater coverts tips,
    – legs color is variable, but there are birds with such color as this bird /overlap with rubescens/,
    – cold grey upperparts
    – some buff only on flanks and
    – no great difference between the white throat and the background color on the upper breast.
    Some of these features are good for rubescens too, but the combination of most of them, strongly suggest japonicus for me.
    My sources are:

    1. Ian Fisher

      Hi Martin, would you be interested in seeing my pics of japonicus from china? I have a good selection of plumages!
      Cheers Ian Fisher


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