Category Archives: a) Pipits

The Pink and Blue Ones

littoralis glory

While we have a fine selection of more subtle Scandinavian Rock Pipits currently at Flamborough- one would like a proper pink and blue one. From deep down in Dorset at Ferrybridge, Brett Spencer has sent photos of the kinda of thing to make ya drool :). Such Water Pipit-esq coloured littoralis are gorgeous – maybe ours have colours still to come…

Brett S littoralis 2 Brett S littoralis 1

Scandinavian Rock Pipit, ‘littoralis’. Ferrybridge, Dorset, Brett Spencer.

 

Scandinavian Rock Pipits

littoralis coming into colour at Flamborough

It’s that time of year. Especially at certain locations on Britain’s east and south coasts, on migration flyways inland- those Rock Pipits from further north and east prepare to head off. But before the do some ‘colour-up’. Specifically they flush beautiful tones of peachiness on the underparts and blues on the head, grey on the uppers and lose some of the streaking below. A stronger whitish supercilium appears. Flamborough probably as some figure well into double figures between a North and South Landing flocks. At least 6+ at South landing are showing colours:

Some of ’em are going to get even more colourful before they go.

litoralis srp10 march s (1 of 1) litoralis srp10 march t (1 of 1) litoralis srp10 march v (1 of 1) littoralis 10 march b (1 of 1) littoralis 10 march c (1 of 1) littoralis 10 march g (1 of 1) littoralis 10 march i (1 of 1) littoralis 10 march j (1 of 1) littoralis 10 march k (1 of 1) littoralis 10 march m (1 of 1) littoralis 10 march n (1 of 1) littoralis 10 march o (1 of 1) littoralis 10 march p (1 of 1) littoralis srp10 march  b (1 of 1) littoralis srp10 march  c (1 of 1)

 

 

Isn’t Evolution Brilliant?

By Terry

 “One of the most exciting discoveries I have been involved with” – Professor Per Alström  

This was how Per described the results of his latest research, released last week.

Coming from the man who, among other things, discovered the breeding grounds of the enigmatic Blackthroat in China, not to mention several species of bird new to science, this was quite a statement.

And so, unusually for me, I read a scientific report from front to back. And it reminded me – as if I needed reminding – just how brilliant are nature and evolution.

Per’s report – based on DNA analysis – reveals that two little-known forest-dwelling birds are actually members of the pipits and wagtails family, evolving very different appearance and behavior after colonizing tropical-forested islands.

The Madanga Madanga ruficollis, occurring exclusively on the island of Buru, Indonesia, is actually a pipit (Anthus) and the São Tomé Shorttail Amaurocichla bocagi is a wagtail (Motacilla). The strikingly different appearance of these birds, compared with their closest relatives, has totally obscured their true relationships.

Madanga ruficollis © Rob Hutchinson

The Madanga, formerly considered an aberrant-looking white-eye (!) is actually a pipit, displaying plumage not resembling any of the world’s 40 species of Anthus. Photo by Rob Hutchinson/Birdtour Asia

Tree Pipit Israel April © Göran Ekström

A more ‘traditional’ pipit – a Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis). Photo by Göran Ekström.

 

Adult-Sao-Tome-short-tail-on-the-ground

The Sao Tome Shorttail (Amaurocichla bocagi) is actually a wagtail. Photo by Fabio Olmos (www.arkive.org).

2014-04-06 White Wagtail ssp baicalensis2, Ma Chang

A more ‘traditional’ wagtail – a White Wagtail (ssp baicalensis).

As well as plumage, the Madanga and São Tomé Shorttail have different habitat choice and feeding style from pipits and wagtails. Both inhabit primary forest, where the former feeds like a nuthatch on epiphyte-covered branches and tree-trunks, while the latter feeds both on the ground and on tree trunks and branches. In contrast, nearly all pipits and wagtails occur in open habitats, and all forage exclusively on the ground.

The suggestion is that the radically different appearances of these birds were triggered by the fundamental shifts in habitat and feeding behaviour following their colonisation of forest-covered tropical islands. This is estimated to have happened around 4 and 3.3 million years ago, respectively.

The presumption is that the birds’ ancestors were long distance migratory species that landed on the islands and became established, despite the alien habitat.

These islands were probably totally covered by forest when these birds’ ancestors first arrived, which is a very unfamiliar habitat to pipits and wagtails,” Professor Alström said.

Two of the closest relatives to the Madanga are the European Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis) and the Olive-backed Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni), which, although breeding in forested areas, nest and feed on the ground.

“Although the Madanga’s plumage is very different, interestingly, the structure of the bird is quite similar to the Tree Pipit and we believe that the ancestor of the Madanga was pre-adapted to this new niche it became established within.” – Professor Per Alström 

 

Tree Pipits are very good at creeping through dense vegetation on the ground. When they are startled and flushed from the vegetation, they often fly up into a tree and they will sit there or they are able to walk quite effortlessly along bigger branches. But they never feed up in the trees, so the hypothesis here is that the ancestor of the Madanga would come to the island of Buru, which was completely covered in forest, and it might have fed on the ground between the trees but then would fly up into the canopy when it was scared by something. It would have then discovered that there was plenty of food on these epiphyte-covered branches and, as it was pre-adapted to walking along branches and in thick ground cover, it could probably have managed fairly well in that new habitat.”

Prof Alström said that this would have meant that there was no evolutionary pressure for it to evolve a new structure.

For example, if you look at the bill, it is very similar to a Tree Pipit’s, and so are the legs and claws. This means the actual shape of the bird has not changed very much.”

Wow!

 

For the full report, see: Alström P, Jønsson KA, Fjeldså J, Ödeen A, Ericson PGP, Irestedt M. 2015 Dramatic niche shifts and morphological change in two insular bird species.R. Soc. open sci.2: 140364. See URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.140364

And Per Alström’s research page can be accessed here.

littoralis Rock Pipits

The Blues

Roger Wyatt

…took these beautiful images at Farmoor Reservoir Oxford on 19th and 20th March 2013. They showcase the subtle blue tones appearing on the heads of these inland littoralis Rock Pipits. Presumably they wintered further south in Britain or France and were photographed moving NW though Britain as part of their Scandinavian-bound journey. Perhaps they staged near Flamborough?

These kind of blue and pink plumage tones will start to be revealed again in Britain in the next few weeks…. and is the lowest bird a littoralis or a petrosus?? Yes I guess. 😉

Thanks Roger!

bRock Pipit litoralis-2 2 bRock Pipit litoralis-3 Rock Pipit litoralisRock Pipit_-2

 

Scandinavian Rock Pipits

The annual staging

Once again a gathering of Rock Pipits is feeding near North Landing at Flamborough on the cliff-top facing due northeast. Here they feed often in the teeth of the icy blasts. It feels like a specific pre-migratio  gathering. Sometime in the next few days/weeks back to Scandinavia, in some case all the way up tothe Arctic?

I have seen at least 2 birds. However some or all of 10-15 could be littoralis. They don’t all flush an identifiable spring plumage, but hopefully more fine moments to come.

Two Rock Pipits- both may be littoralis but the left hand bird is recognisably so.

Two Rock Pipits- both may be littoralis but the left hand bird is recognisably so.

littoralis Rock Pipit

littoralis Rock Pipit

Rock Pipits of both nominate petrosus and littoralis are supposed to normally have grey on outer tail father tips versus white in Water Pipit. However littoralis do seem to quite regularly show more obviously white here...

Rock Pipits of both nominate petrosus and littoralis are supposed to normally have grey on outer tail father tips versus white in Water Pipit. However littoralis do seem to quite regularly show more obviously white here…

 

and this is a littoralis in Varanger in mid- April, on its breeding grounds

and this is a littoralis in Varanger in mid- April, on its breeding grounds

 

Meanwhile the Big Birds bring daily highlights too…

Greenland w front 23 feb 2015

Peregrine mg

1st for Oman- nominate Olive-backed Pipit?

Anthus hodgsoni hodgsoni or not?

It remains a beautiful and quintessentially ‘Siberian’ vagrant passerine. The Olive-backed Pipits we normally get in Western Europe are of the more northerly breeding, long distance migratory form yunnanensis– with typically weakly streaked upperparts.

The nominate form ‘hodgsoni’ is a shorter distance migrant of more southerly distribution and so understandably less likely to reach where I live :). Olive backed Pipit is on the ‘garden list’ of where I live now though before we got here- so maybe one day.

One record of a bird showing some characters of nominate hodgsoni was recorded by one of the Birding Frontiers team. Thats one’s still be looked into as it would be a European first…

Following that Oscar Campbell wrote up 3 birds showing characteristics if hodgsoni in the United Arab Emirates (Birding World Vol 26 no. 11). The most recent of these was in November 2013 in the U.A.E..

Oman, January 2015

Alex writes in:

“Hello, after a voyage to Oman / UAE between 1 and 11 January 2015, we wanted to inform Oscar Campbell about various interesting birds we observed. Among them are two Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni hodgsoni (nominate!) observed the 9th January 2015 in Balid Farms, Oman. According to his article on Birding World 26 and commentary, this involves moving the first observation in Oman and 4th for Western Palearctic….

Alex Ollé.

Features of  nominate hodgsoni

Key features of nominate hodgsoni are more heavily streaked upper parts, more evenly and  streaked crown (thicker streaks) and on some (with overlap) more heavily streaked flanks. The latter is not apparent on Alex’s bird but the first two features on this more worn individual are. Also note the fore supercilium is not quite so strikingly colourful as on many autumn Olive-backed Pipits we see in Europe.

Sooooo

Is this hodgsonsi or a worn/scruffy Tree Pipit? I maybe rushed it (bit of tendency these days). Maybe it is just a Tree Pipit….  Some good friends are asking. As ever- have look for yourself:

Anthus hodgsoni 1a Anthus hodgsoni 2 a

Above: Nominate Olive-backed Pipit ssp. hodgsoni or Tree Pipit, Balid Farms, Oman, 9th January 2015, Alex Ollé.

To compare, some yunnanensis

 

Olive- backed Pipit yunannensis, Baltasound, Shetland, October 2011. Martin Garner

Olive- backed Pipit yunannensis, Baltasound, Shetland, October 2011. Martin Garner

Olive- backed Pipit  sip, yunnanensis  Hestingott, South Mainland, Shetland, October 2012 Martin Garner

Olive- backed Pipit sip, yunnanensis Hestingott, South Mainland, Shetland, October 2012 Martin Garner

Olive- backed Pipit yunannensis, Baltasound, Shetland, October 2011. Stef McElwee

Olive- backed Pipit yunannensis, Baltasound, Shetland, October 2011. Stef McElwee

 and Tree Pipit to compare

The upper parts streaking of Tree Pipits sis closer to the souther form of Olive-bacled Pipit- hodgsoni.

Tree Pipit, Unst, Shetland, October 2012. Martin Garner

Tree Pipit, Unst, Shetland, October 2012. Martin Garner

 

Water Pipits: 3 species rather than 1?

Splits ahoy – Three Water Pipits and the Two Buff-bellied Pipits too!

Martin Garner, Yoav Perlman, Yosef Kiat and Martin Collinson.

This paper just been published in British Birds magazine (January 2015):

Water Pipits: three species rather than one?

Based on a distinctive call, differences in plumage and a preliminary genetic analysis, the ‘Caucasian Water Pipit’ Anthus spinoletta coutellii may represent a separate species within the Rock/Water Pipit complex. The differences between the three taxa currently treated as three races of a single species, the Water Pipit, are described. by Martin Garner, Yoav Perlman, Yosef Kiat and Martin Collinson.

Follow your Birding Nose

It’s been a privilege to work on this little project over the last three years. Jonathan Merav and Dan Alon especially made much of it possible. Following me nose- I  (MG) was intrigued by the unfamiliar and rather distinct calls of the Water Pipits, first in Turkey several years back then especially in Israel. Brian Small also inspired me from his own field observations. When Martin Collinson reported back on the first results of DNA analysis- it was in wonderfully excited tones!

Twas a dream working with such experienced field workers as Yoav Perlman and Yosef Kiat to obtain photos, sound recordings and study trapped birds. And Martin Collinson is, of course, the sequencing King.  :) Thanks to all!

 

Caucasian Water Pipit 'coutellii', Mount Hermon, Israel 15th Nov 2013. Martin Garner. Genetic material from this individual contributed to some surprising results

Caucasian Water Pipit ‘coutellii’, Mount Hermon, Israel 15th Nov 2013. Martin Garner. Genetic material from this individual contributed to some surprising results

Caucasian Water Pipit 'coutellii' may better classified as a full species, March 2012, Eilat, Israel

Caucasian Water Pipit ‘coutellii’ may better classified as a full species, March 2012, Eilat, Israel

and have a listen to a coutellii calling:

 

Buff-bellied Pipits: American and Siberian

First revelation was the surprising genetic distance between the three Water Pipits. As part of the process Martin also looked at the two Buff-bellied Pipit taxa. His ‘tweet’ says it all:

“Water Pipit paper in January BB also shows big genetic split between Asian and American Buff-bellied Pipits.

Fond memories below:

American (Buff-bellied) Pipit - rubescens, Quendale, Shetland October 2011. Phil Woollen

American (Buff-bellied) Pipit – rubescens, Quendale, Shetland October 2011. Phil Woollen

Siberian (Buff-bellied) Pipit- japonicus, Israel, November 2013. The research also showed species level genetic differences between this and the American Buff-bellied Pipit- rubescens.

Siberian (Buff-bellied) Pipit- japonicus, Israel, November 2013. The research also showed species level genetic differences between this and the American Buff-bellied Pipit- rubescens.

and here’s a Siberian Pipit calling: