Blyth’s Pipit in the garden!

Blyth’s Pipit (Anthus godlewski) is not a bird I was expecting to add to my ‘garden list’ in Beijing but that’s exactly what happened last Friday.  Just before I started packing for a work trip to Italy, as it was such a beautiful day, I decided to have a walk around the communal ‘garden’ in Central Park.  The workers had just relaid some of the grass on one part of the garden and were watering it with a large hose.  Thinking that the disturbance would probably have flushed any birds, I was just about to move on when I noticed a pipit walking around on the small area (just 10 metres x 15 metres) of newly-watered grass, just a few feet away from the workmen.  On size and posture alone I suspected it might be a Blyth’s Pipit.  It was clearly smaller than the average Richard’s Pipit (Anthus richardi) and its gait was not as upright.  I observed it with my binoculars for a few minutes, to the bemusement of the workmen, and after observing the hind-claw (shorter and more curved than Richard’s), I knew it was a Blyth’s.  The lessons I learned on identification of Richard’s and Blyth’s in the spring – see here and here – had paid off!

Realising that this was a rare opportunity to get so close to a scarce and often difficult bird to observe, I wanted to fetch my camera..  I hurried back to the flat, hoping that by the time I returned, the bird would not have been flushed by the workmen or the dog-walkers that were now roaming the area.

I needn’t have worried.  When I returned, I immediately saw the pipit in almost the same place.. it was walking around and seemingly feeding quite well.  It was then that I noticed a couple of spines apparently embedded in the bird’s underparts and I began to speculate that maybe it was injured…  It’s certainly unusual to see a Blyth’s Pipit so well and injury may well have been the reason.  That said, it seemed to be moving easily and feeding well, so hopefully it will be ok.

Here are some images.  I am including, at the end, an image of a juvenile/first-winter Richard’s Pipit taken recently for comparison.  With views as good as this, the pair are easy to separate but, of course, a skulky, silent vagrant in a field of long grass in Western Europe would be a tad trickier!

Blyth’s Pipit, Central Park, Beijing, 14 September 2012. Note the hind claw (and compare with Richard’s below). The bird’s structure is also more compact and appears slightly shorter-tailed. The relatively warm, unstreaked flanks are also typical of autumn Blyth’s.
Blyth’s Pipit, Central Park, Beijing. To me Blyth’s often appears mid-way in size between Richard’s and the smaller pipits.. It’s gait and ‘jizz’ also recall the smaller pipits at times.
Blyth’s Pipit, Central Park, Beijing. This image shows the relatively strong and uniform dark streaking on the mantle and the dark tail.
Blyth’s Pipit, Central Park, Beijing. A head-on image showing the pale throat, streaking on the chest and the dark streaking on the cap (more prominent than on Richard’s).
This bird was sporting two spines that appeared to be embedded in its body. Although it seemed to be moving and feeding ok, this injury may be the reason it was so tame.
Richard’s Pipit, Nanpu, Hebei Province, 27 August 2012. Note the length and curvature of the hind claw, the more upright stance, longer tail, lightly streaked flanks and the bolder supercilium.

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