Moult of the Mae Faek Blyth’s Pipit

Since my first observation of the Blyth’s Pipit (Anthus godlewskii) at Mae Faek on 17 March 2021, I had been visiting it as often as possible. Towards the end of its stay, I went to observe it daily in the morning and evening. Eventually, it was last seen in the evening of 2 May 2021 and must have departed that night when the weather cleared up after a long period of rain storms. I’m really surprised about how long it had stayed in the same area.

In this post, I’d like to share photos of this bird taken throughout its long stay at Mae Faek. It had gone through a remarkable transformation from juvenile to adult plumage within the time span of roughly a month and a half. It was very interesting for me to observe the moulting progress of the same bird over such long period of time.

Dave Bakewell also made an incredible note on the moult of a Blyth’s Pipit in Malaysia here. The Malaysian bird looked very different from the Mae Faek bird but both shared a very similar pre-breeding moult strategy.

[18 March 2021] The bird was in worn first-winter plumage. The mantle was heavily streaked. The median coverts were extremely worn and missing much of the pale tips.
[22 March 2021] I relocated it while coming to roost along with Richard’s Pipits. Note that it already attained a single fresh adult-type greater covert on its right wing, and a single fresh feather on the mantle.
[22 March 2021] I could also manage to get some photos of it while stretching showing the diagnostic tail pattern. The second outermost tail feathers have a small white patch at the tip, where as in Richard’s and Paddyfield Pipit, the white would be much more extensive similar to the outermost tail feathers.
[23 March 2021] The median coverts appeared slightly more bleached than when it was first seen, with fainter dark centres. Note the very contrasting and bold streaking on the crown.
[23 March 2021] When seen in profile, it showed a contrast between the worn whitish throat and upper breast with the fresh rufous-buff lower breast and flanks.
[25 March 2021] The overall plumage became very worn, especially the tertials and wing coverts.
[25 March 2021] It started to lose some of the head and breast feathers. Again, note the contrast between the worn whitish upper breast and the fresh rufous-buff lower breast and flanks.
[9 April 2021] I was away for 2 weeks. When I came back, I was very surprised to see the moulting progress of the bird. It had nearly completed the moult of its head, breast and belly feathers. About half of the greater coverts were already replaced, and new median coverts, tertials and tail feathers could be seen growing.
[9 April 2021] The plumage looked very messy with a strong contrast between the extremely worn feathers and the fresh new feathers.
[9 April 2021] Note the bright rufous-buff underparts and tips to the new median and greater coverts.
[11 April 2021] The bird started to appear strongly rufous-buff, especially when seen in the warm evening light. Note that the uppermost greater covert began to abrade and the edges became more whitish.
[11 April 2021] Note the fast-growing tertials and tail feathers. The primary projections were also visible due to the incomplete tertials. The diagnostic second outermost tail feather can also be seen here.
[12 April 2021] The feathers were growing very quickly and the progress was visible daily. The head and mantle feathers now started to look neater.
[17 April 2021] By now, it had already completed the body feathers and median coverts. The tertials and tail feathers also became much longer. A new outermost tail feather on the left side of the tail was also growing.
[17 April 2021] Note that the primary projections had become shorter due to the growing tertials. In complete moult, the tertials will fully cover the primary tips.
[18 April 2021] The moult now looked quite complete except for the short tertails and tail feathers. Note the short hind claws which are clearly shown here.
[18 April 2021] Note the growing outermost tail feather
[20 April 2021] The longest tertial already nearly covered the primary tip and the outermost tail feather became much longer.
[22 April 2021] The moult looked very much complete by now, except for the worn primary tips that were still slightly visible and the growing outermost tail feather.
[22 April 2021] When showing the spread wing, the contrast between fresh and worn feathers was clearly visible. Note that it only replaced the median coverts, tertials, and half of the greater coverts, while retaining the rest of the wing feathers.
[30 April 2021] The bird seemed to stop replacing any feather at this stage. Note that the edges to the uppermost greater covert on its right wing became much more abraded than the others.
[1 May 2021] The uppermost greater covert on the left wing also started to become more abraded by now. Note that the longest tertial had fully covered the primary tip.
[2 May 2021] On the last day of its stay, it didn’t look much different from the earlier few days, except for the slightly more obvious feather wear on the uppermost greater covert.
Left: 23 March 2021 & Right: 2 May 2021

In the morning of 3 May 2021, I went out to look for it at 6.30 AM as usual. I sat and waited in the area where it usually appeared, but only managed to spot just few Paddyfield Pipits running around. The Blyth’s Pipit didn’t show up and I decided to leave around 9 AM. I returned in the afternoon and stayed until sunset but there was also no sign of it. The weather had cleared up since the night before with no cloud all the way from northern Thailand to China, so I guess it must have departed that night to its breeding ground in the north. I wonder how long it takes for it to reach the breeding ground. Hopefully, it will have a successful nesting season and return to Mae Faek again in the next winter.

[28 April 2021] The Blyth’s Pipit in its comfortable corner getting ready to go to sleep.
[29 April 2021] Hopefully, I will be able to see it again in the next winter.

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