Pulau Mantanani: 8 – 12 Oct 2012: Pipits and Wagtails

Shortly after arrival on 8th Oct, I took my first walk along the coastal path from the resort to see what I could find. Within a few hundred metres, I flushed a passerine off the path, and it landed just a foot or so off the ground on a dead branch, enabling me to get the bins then camera on to it as it watched me nervously.

Not the best pic, but a record shot of a species I last saw in 1986 at Beidaihe, China – a Pechora Pipit. After a pause, the bird hopped back to the ground and scurried off into the undergrowth. Despite waiting there for over an hour, it never showed itself openly again, though I did see it creeping along with its eye on me a couple of times – a very skulking bird!

Pechoras are distinctive pipits – very boldy marked, and most similar to Red-throated (see here). The easiest way to identify them is by the fact that, uniquely among pipits, Pechora’s primaries are visible beyond the rather short tertials. You can see this, even on this poor photo.

Other than that, they have very bold white wingbars and pale mantle braces, are heavily streaked, and the malar stripe doesn’t reach the bill.

Perhaps the biggest giveaway though, is the habitat and behaviour – sneaking around on the ground in thick cover right next to the beach.

On 10th Oct I flushed another in similar habitat at the other end of the island, just inland of the north beach. This one didn’t reappear at all despite a lengthy wait.

The same afternoon, in yet another area, and in the midst of prolonged rain, as I was walking along a coastal path, I flushed another. This time the bird walked out onto the path and remained motionless for a good five minutes, looking wet and miserable. I had put the camera away because of the rain, but I was able to slowly get it out and fire off a series of shots in very poor light.

I was dearly hoping to find a Richard’s Pipit on the island, but I was probably too early. The only other pipits I saw were a pair of familiar Paddyfield Pipits on the football field.Eastern Yellow Wagtails were an abundant migrant, with at least 40 birds on 9th Oct. They favoured the beach and sandy grass in Kg Siring Bukit. How many can you see here?You should have found four. But there were inevitably more than I could see when the birds took flight.

Watching these birds, I realized that it is possible to identify juveniles to race rather easily, or at least, that’s how it seemed to me.This is a juvenile macronyx, with almost no supercilium and a rather dark grey crown and ear coverts.

I took these birds, with a broad, long supercilium, to be juvenile taivana.The commonest variant was this one, with a thin supercilium, sometimes broken in front of the eye, which I took be to be tschutschensis. The extent of marking on the breast was very variable, from virtually none to quite heavy and distinct.

These juv Eastern Yellow Wagtails exhibit several supposedly strong features of Citrine Wagtail – white vent, dusky rear flanks, lack of olive tones, even a dark lateral crown stripe on some. None, however, showed the broad white wingbars and pale ear covert surrounds of Citrine.There was quite an influx of Grey Wagtails in my few days. I recorded none on my first day but at least 8 birds on the 10th, with another 6 on the morning of 12th Oct.

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