Thursday, July 13, 2017

For the love of pipits!

After a splendid season of surveying Sprague’s Pipits in Manitoba’s grasslands, I am feeling rather pipit-inspired and have decided to share a series of photos of different species from around the globe. Pipits are not as boldly patterned as their relatives the wagtails but the pack in a lot of mystique and offer a wonderful birding challenged to find and identify.

Sprague’s Pipit (Anthus spragueii), Manitoba, Canada:
One of the highlights of so much surveying in cattle pastures this year was getting some exceptional opportunities to SEE Sprague’s Pipit. I emphasise the word “see” because 9 times out of 10 one hears Sprague’s Pipit but cannot spot the speck in the sky. These grassland birds make their haunting song carry further by singing high in the air over the grasslands. This year though, having spent so much time in grasslands such as cattle pastures for #MBSARPAL ( and on  community pastures, I saw no less than six of them on the ground (more than I have seen on the ground in 15 years of birding in Manitoba). Here is one that shows the bird well (including the white outer rectrices) stitched together with a habitat shot that shows a pipit walking through some beautiful mixed-grass prairie. . 

Buff-bellied Pipit, a.k.a American Pipit (Anthus rubescens), Manitoba, Canada and Wyoming, U.S.A.:
The other pipit we regularly see in North America is known in North America as “American Pipit” but this species also breeds in much of Siberia and northernmost China and winters in Asia as well so most of the world prefers to call the species Buff-bellied Pipit. Different populations breed in Arctic, Subarctic or alpine tundra and can look rather different (some more pink in breeding plumage and some more buff). The first collage shows a bird in the subarctic tundra of northern Manitoba, Canada and a close-up of a bird foraging in the inter-tidal zone of Hudson Bay. The second collage shows a bird in rocky alpine habitat in Wyoming and then a juvenile on a boulder slope.

Yellowish Pipit (Anthus lutescens), Salta Argentina:
The Yellowish Pipit is one of the more widespread and smaller of the South American pipits. This species is found in grasslands and other relatively open habitat types from the dry zone of southern South America to the tropical wet savannas, even as far north as Panama. 

Hellmayr’s Pipit (Anthus hellmayri), Tucumán, Argentina:
The subtly beautiful Hellmay’s Pipit is an enigmatic grassland pipit, found most commonly in the drier grasslands of the Puna (as high as 3700 m ASL) but also in pastures in some contexts. Some populations are resident and some are migratory and there is the possibility that some subspecies may in fact be cryptic species. This composite shows the bird up close on a rock and in the typical Puna habitat it calls home. It reminds me a lot of our Sprague’s Pipit but perhaps with a more speckled face.

Rosy Pipit (Anthus roseatus), Sichuan, China:
There are a few pipits that have soft pink or red in their plumage and the Rosy Pipit is one of my absolute favourites. This collage shows a bird in breeding plumage in the high mountains of Sichuan, China. This species is an altitudinal migrant, breeding in the alpine meadows and grassy slopes of the Himalayas and eastern Asia, even at the snow line, and wintering in the mid elevations plains.

Olive-backed Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni), South Korea and China:
The Olive-backed Pipit is one of the more common and widespread Asian pipits. This species breeds in a diverse mixture of habitat types especially where the taiga meets the tundra and where the montane forest meets the alpine zone, and, at least in the breeding season, seems to spend more time perched in shrubs and trees than many other pipits. You can even find them walking on the forest floor or fallen conifer needles at times. Like the Rosy Pipit, the alpine populations migrate down slope in winter and some go as far south as Borneo. This collage shows a few habitat types and plumages (a bird perched on a shrub in breeding plumage, a bird on a lawn in spring and a bird on the forest floor in autumn). 

Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris), Rajasthan, India:
The Tawny Pipit is mostly a Western Palearctic breeding species that winters in sub-Saharan Africa (Sahel) and parts of the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent. The large and fairly plain (i.e. unstreaked) pipit is easier to identify than many other pipits. It is found mostly in dry habitats as shown here in western India on the wintering grounds. Although it can be found in grassland you will also find this species in sand, gravel, semi-desert and shrubland.

Plain-backed Pipit (Anthus leucophrys), Cameroon:
The Plain-backed Pipit is one of the African resident pipit species (i.e. does not migrate) and a striking bird with its rich tawny underparts. This species is found in savanna and grassland with scattered shrubs and trees as shown here (photo from Cameroon).

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