Ringing the unringable

11 09 2013

Cervine [ˈsɜːvaɪn]: adj

1. (Life Sciences & Allied Applications / Zoology) resembling or relating to a deer”

I write this post while flying to Barcelona, an almost needed stopover before my final destination, the Canary Islands, where I will be leading a pelagic trip again.

The last week of ringing has been really quite, with an average of 20 birds per day. However, an implement in our methods for trying to catch Red-throated pipit gave us 3 1st winter birds in 3 days in a row. These numbers are good enough, especially since it equals the total number of birds ever caught in Falsterbo.

Anthus cervinus 2

The implement was the use of Ottenby’ cages combined with the nets and of course the speaker. The success came when surrounding the speaker with cages: birds just walked in while getting closer to the singing and calling Red-throated pipit. The nets were there and probably helped to channel the birds, but the glory must be for the cages.  Another advantage is that we’ve been able to use this method even in windy days. In a context of strong easterlies (7-8 m/s, not enough for cancelling the ringing), the standarised nets were empty and the cages kept us awake during the unpleasant mornings.

The birds themselves were, as expected, extremely nice. The first one showed this diagnostic pattern in the undertail coverts:

I love diagnostic features

Even Svensson 1998 says that this feature is present in 80% of the birds, just the first one out of the three did show it. Of course, our sample is ridiculously small (yet); let’s see what are my thoughts in a few weeks.

Another interesting thing to look at is obviously the stripes in the back. My expectations were something close to Pechora pipit but, however, they turned out to be more similar to Meadow pipit. The first bird didn’t show any white in the back, but some ochre stripes paler in the centres. The main difference with a Meadow in this character was surprisingly the width of the black stripes, much larger and contrasted. The rump in this bird was also plainer than in a typical Red-throated. The other 2 birds showed what probably is a more typical pattern, a zebra-like back but with ochre surrounding the white stripes. The rump was, at the same time heavily streaked.


The tertials showed white in both webs, but limited to the tip of the feather in the inner web. The second bird had moulted T2 and T3 and bizarrely the white in the inner web was not as obvious in the moulted feathers. As this is a key feature for Red-throated pipit identification, the age of the bird or at least the moult state of the tertials should be assessed before assigning the bird to one species or another.


Interestingly, the last bird showed a quite long primary projection, measuring 6mm (noticeable in the photo above). It was in the top end of the range given by Svensson 1998, but still far from Pechora pipit measurements.

The head and the breast gave a delicate impression. The stripes of the crown were more contrasted than in other Anthus species and the eyebrow and the ear coverts were joined behind the eye, giving a blurred impression. One could imagine the red occupying that area in a few months. The bill is really thin and pointed, with the yellow in the under mandible quite extensive.

Head profile

The first bird showed some red concentrated in the lower part of the throat, probably pointing to a male, whereas none of the other two birds presented this coloration. Seemingly, 1st winter birds without any hint of red can be sexed as females but birds with just a little bit of red (such as our first bird) should be let unsexed. It would be very interesting to know where is the limit… my feeling is that most of the birds could be safely sexed.

red throat

Finally, the legs were bright pink, contrasting with the yellow of Tree and the duller pink of Meadow. The hind claw was just the same as in Meadow.


Both missions accomplished: to find out the best way of catching Red-throated pipit and to be able to examine some live 1st winter birds of a species rarely caught. Now it’s time to change the scenario and enjoy the skillful flight of my missed tubenoses.




3 responses

14 09 2013

Awww … it looks like a little thrush 🙂

10 03 2014

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16 03 2014
Marcel Gil Velasco

Hi! No, of curse I don’t mind! Feel free to take whatever you think it’s interesting 🙂

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