Thank you to everyone who voted in the ‘just for fun’ pipit quiz.. and apologies for keeping you in suspense for so long with the answer.. I have been in Dandong (Liaoning Province, on the border with North Korea) for a few days of shorebirding. It was superb. More about that later.
As I write this post, the percentages of the voting came out as follows:
Blyth’s Pipit – 78.38%
Richard’s Pipit – 16.22%
Don’t Know – 5.4%
The correct answer is RICHARD’S PIPIT.. so congratulations to the 16.22% of you who voted correctly. And to those of you who voted for Blyth’s, there is absolutely no shame in getting this one wrong – it was a very difficult quiz question!
So, why is it a Richard’s Pipit? Well, first up I should say that I was confused by this individual and I would have been in the “Don’t Know” category! But after consulting with literature here and here, and some very helpful comments from Paul Holt, I am now confident that this is a Richard’s.
Separating Richard’s and Blyth’s Pipits is not easy – the differences are subtle and there is individual variation, making some individuals hard to identify, particularly if the bird does not call. It is only relatively recently that vagrants have been identified in the field in Western Europe – up until a few decades ago, first year birds were thought to be inseparable if they were not in the hand. However, after lots of field observations by some very skilled people, subtle differences have been shown to allow reliable separation in the field, even if one does not hear the bird call.
Structure. Blyth’s often appears ‘slighter’ with a shorter tail, shorter legs and ‘softer’ face, sometimes recalling a smaller pipit. It’s stance is often more horizontal than the very ‘upright’ stance typical of Richard’s.
The bill. On a Blyth’s, the bill is generally shorter, blunter and more ‘conical’ than Richard’s. This is a little subjective and of course is only useful if you can compare directly or have good experience of Richard’s Pipit. Whilst not at the longer end of Richard’s Pipit variation, the bill on this bird is more like typical Richard’s than Blyth’s.
The crown. On a Blyth’s, the crown streaking is usually dense and uniform, showing clear streaks rather than more ‘coagulated’ markings as on Richard’s. Blyth’s is therefore said to exhibit a ‘capped’ effect. Although this bird could be described as somewhat ‘capped’, the streaking is more ‘coagulated’ as is typical of Richard’s.
The mantle. The streaking on the mantle is usually stronger and more uniform on a Blyth’s. This bird shows mantle streaking typical of Richard’s.
The dark centres to the adult median coverts (perhaps the most important feature). On a Richard’s, the centres to the adult median coverts are somewhat pointed or triangular. On Blyth’s they are more prominent and squarer. On Richard’s, the margins to the median coverts are wider and buffish; on Blyth’s the margins tend to be narrower and more contrasting. This bird shows quite prominent and buffish margins to the median coverts, more typical of Richard’s.
The rear claw. If seen well, the rear claw can be a useful indicator. It is shorter on Blyth’s. Again, only really useful in the field if one has good experience of Richard’s. Claw not visible in this image.
Perhaps the most useful pointer to separate these birds in the field is the call. This bird called once and, to my ears, was typical of the strident ‘shreep’ of Richard’s. Sorry that you did not have the benefit of that!!
So, there you go… I am not sure I will always get the identification of these pipits right but I am now more informed and will have a better chance when I come across these large pipits in the future.
Always more to learn in birding, which is what makes it such a great hobby…!