09 January 2023

First for Saudi Arabia, Buff-bellied Pipit (Anthus rubescens japonicas) – Al Sikak Farms

Whilst birding the Al Sikak farms near Salwa in southeast Saudi Arabia Phil Roberts hear a Pipit fly over calling. He alerted me to the bird and then relocated it flying over calling again, a single tsip call – similar to me to a Meadow Pipit, before it landed and started feeding in the small allotment type fields. I could see immediately it had very bold streaking with a thick malar stripe. It also had a large white, unbroken eye-ring, bold supercilium, bold breast streaking, strong wing-bars and plain greyish mantle. Most of these features can be seen on the photographs of the bird, although I only managed to get one in focus shot before it flew off and could not be relocated. I suggested to Phil that the bird could be a Buff-bellied Pipit so we tried for some time to relocate the bird. There were very few birds about of any species, but all we could see was a single Water Pipit. We came back again later in the day but again were not able to relocate the bird. Luckily both Phil and I managed to get photos, although not many, and I sent them to Yoav Perlman who has seen the japonicas sub-species in the field in Israel, and confirmed its identification as a Buff-bellied Pipit. This is the first record of Buff-bellied Pipit for Saudi Arabia, but a not unexpected addition as they probably winter in Israel and have occurred elsewhere in the Middle East (see below). The subspecies is sometimes called Siberian Pipit (Anthus (rubescens) japonicas) treated as a separate species from American Buff-bellied Pipit (Anthus rubescens rubescens), as it breeds in eastern Asia and is significantly different in terms of plumage characteristics from the latter which breed entirely within North America and western Greenland.

Buff-bellied Pipit (A. r. japonicas), breeds in central & western Siberia from Tunguska to Kamchatka and south to northern Sakhalin & the Kurile Islands. They winter in eastern & southern China, Honk Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Nepal, Pakistan, northern India, northern Myanmar & northern Vietnam with birds being recorded regularly in Israel. Vagrant birds have been seen in Italy and regularly in the Middle East (mainly Israel) during migration and winter. The species status in the Middle East is listed here:

Oman:  Vagrant - 8 records

UAE:  Rare but regular winter visitor, sometimes in small groups, mainly from Dubai northwards with the first record: One Ruwais 26-27 December 1996.

Qatar:  Vagrant - Six (at least) Al Shamal Park 25 December 2014 to 6 February 2015.

Saudi Arabia:  Vagrant - One record Al Sikak farms, near Salwa 23 December 2022.

Bahrain:  Vagrant - One record trapped and ringed, Alba Marsh 20 January 2012 (https://www.birdsofsaudiarabia.com/2012/01/first-for-bahrain-siberian-buff-bellied.html)

Kuwait:  Rare winter visitor with highest count three 21 February 2009 at Sulaibiya pivot fields.

Israel:  Rare passage migrant and winter visitor to eastern parts of the country, very rare elsewhere. Arrives during late October and departs in March or early April.