Tree Pipit: May 1st 2000, Gageo Island
Nial Moores

Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis

Photo © Nial Moores, 20 Oct 2000

Five records by Nial Moores: (1) Gageo Island, Jeollanam Province, May 1, 2000; (2) Gageo Island October 20, 2000; (3) Eocheong Island, Jeollabuk Province, April 30, 2002; (4) Eocheong Island, September 4 2002; (5) Eocheong Island, September 15-16 2002 (also seen by Kim S-K). Second and fifth bird photographed.
Also seen twice in spring and once in autumn on Gageo Island by Park Jin-Young.

On May 1st 2000, at Hang Ri headland, Gageo Island, the day after a major fall of migrants, a pipit was watched feeding on the main track before it flew off north. Although views were relatively brief (about 30 seconds through 8x40 binoculars at ca 30 m range and 5 seconds through a 25x tripod-mounted telescope) the bird was identified quickly as a (Eurasian) Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis, based on extensive experience with the species in Britain. The bird was about the size of an Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni (several were present for direct comparison), and (1) heavily "tramlined" on the upperparts (ruling out Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rubescens japonicus). It (2) lacked whitish braces, and (3) had a clearly contrastingly unstreaked rump (rather being faintly mottled). This combination ruled out both Red-throated Anthus cervinus and Pechora Pipit Anthus gustavi. (4) Overall it appeared brown on the upperparts and buffish-toned below, not olive-toned on the upperparts as would be expected on Olive-backed Pipit. (5) The facial pattern was much weaker than in Olive-backed Pipit, with a relatively weak pale supercilium, and (6) unlike the potential vagrant Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis it also showed a pale spot to the rear of the ear coverts (though unlike Olive-backed, with no dark mark below that). (7) Unlike in Pechora Pipit, the tertials completely cloaked the primary tips, and (8) unlike Red-throated, the bill showed a pink base (with a yellowish or horn tone), rather than a yellow bill base. It had pink legs, a little weaker-colored than is typical in spring Buff-bellied Pipit.

The second bird on Gageo Island, on October 20th 2000, also appeared shortly after a very heavy fall of migrants (including 1 000+ Olive-backed Pipits). This individual frequented the main garbage tip in 1-Gu, calling several times and giving prolonged views over a number of hours, when it was photographed through a hand-held camera through the telescope.

Photographs reveal clearly all the diagnostic features of Tree Pipit described above. Additional features included that (9) the supercilium was sandy-buff and concolorous with the pale lines on the mantle; (10) the tertials were pale-fringed (Olive-backed Pipit typically shows greenish edges); and (11) the bold breast streaking became much finer down the flanks, again a feature not shared by Meadow Pipit.

The third individual, on Eocheong Island on April 30 2002, again occurred in association with a very heavy fall of migrants, including at least 3 000 Olive-backed Pipits. It was seen briefly through 8x32 Leica binoculars at 30 m range as it perched in a tree for about 20 seconds, about 25 m from where we had just been watching a Ferruginous Flycatcher Muscicapa ferruginea.The fourth and fifth individuals were also very well seen, and the full range of identification criteria detailed above were well-noted.

Although these are the first Korean records of the Tree Pipit, it has recently begun to be recorded almost annually in Japan since the species was first found there in 1965 (Brazil 1991), presumably as observers have become more familiar with the identification criteria. MacKinnon and Phillipps (2000) suggest that the closest the Tree Pipit nests to Korea is in West Tianshan, northwest Xinjiang (more than 3000 km to the west), but the recent records, including three on Gageo Island in 2001 and 2002, suggests that it perhaps extends rather further eastward (as indicated by The Birds of the Western Palearctic Cramp et al, which give its range as almost reaching 140 degrees East).