Birding Kangding, Sichuan – 10,000 Birds

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In Kangding, there is a rather opulent bird hide – two stories, solid construction, spacious, lots of glass, a separate paved parking lot, though mysteriously (and as far as I can tell from my experience of living in China for almost 20 years, not indicative of fundamentally different physical needs of Chinese people) missing a bathroom.

This was the place I spent a good half a day in February 2023, again in the company of Bella from Alpinebirding, who fortunately compensates her disturbing fondness for leaf warblers with a vast knowledge of Chinese birds and particularly their calls (though obviously, the latter capability is much more important when birding with her in the wild rather than from a hide, so I guess I should have used the last bit in another blog post).

Anyway, in case you are still reading, the main attraction at this hide is Lady Amherst’s Pheasant, which perversely is not featured in this post (it is treated in a separate one, thus grudgingly acknowledging the almost disgusting flamboyance of that species).

However, there are plenty of birds left to see from this hide.

Among the key attractions are several laughingthrushes. I think my favorite this time was the Barred Laughingthrush.

The way eBird describes the species could well be a description of my ideal girlfriend – “handsome but shy”.

The Latin species name lunulata is derived from luna, “moon”, with the diminutive added – it means thus “little moon” and also “crescent-shaped”. My guess is that this is derived from the half-moonish patterns all over the main body of the bird.

I am not sure why the change – hopefully some positive development – but the categorization of the species was changed from Near Threatened (it is range-restricted) to Least Concern.

Elliot’s Laughingthrush is named after Daniel Giraud Elliot (1835 – 1915), an American ornithologist who apparently did not really do anything related to laughingthrushes and/or Asia but was rich. Maybe that was enough. At least he did not have a book titled “The Art of the Deal” ghostwritten for him.

This species tends to use plenty of hair gel to get the perfect wet look.

In a recent post, I mentioned that scientific papers increasingly seem to have literary titles. A very recent one (2023) involving Elliot’s Laughingthrush follows the same trend: “Asian Koel removes nestlings of Elliot’s Laughingthrush from their nest: farming or retaliatory mafia behavior?

The paper describes a videotaped incident of an adult female Asian Koel removing three Elliot’s Laughingthrush nestlings from a nest (incidentally, also in Kangding, Sichuan). The most likely explanation – as judged by the authors – is something called the farming hypothesis, which states that brood parasites such as the koel may deliberately destroy nests as it gives them a good chance to deposit an egg in the replacement clutch. Not something I would seriously consider doing myself, but then I do not really want to reproduce anyway.

Pity the mafia hypothesis cited in the title of the paper is not pursued further though – that could have been interesting.

Photobombing seems to be a big thing for Elliot’s Laughingthrush, at least in this location (here with a Giant Laughingthrush).

The Chinese Babax also does some photobombing but in a much more subtle way (to compensate for the previous photo, here with an Elliot’s Laughingthrush).

The name part “Babax” apparently is borrowed from Ancient Greek, with “babax” meaning “chatterer”. The name “Chinese” apparently is derived from the fact that the bird is mainly found in China.

 

To illustrate my frequently made point that mammals are kind of evil, here is another piece of evidence. A paper describes how a Golden Snub-nosed Monkey (which looks a bit like somebody had kicked Donald Trump in the nose, which in itself may probably not be such a bad idea) ate three Chinese Babax chicks from a nest in Shennongjia National Park.

Some of the gruesome details are given in the abstract of the paper: “The monkey killed all the three chicks by biting off their heads while feeding on them. In this case, multiple individuals, most were female juveniles, were involved in watching the process of predation”. So not only do mammals kill birds, but they also see this as a kind of spectator sport.

The Giant Laughingthrush is a bit of a disappointment in that it is not really big enough to eat you (or even a pet cat), even though that is what one would expect from an animal with the Giant part in its name. Maybe the species has shrunk in the past few decades.

 

If you have ever thought of having kids and want my opinion on it, I advise against it. However, on the plus side, you probably will not have to eat the feces of your young kids, as Giant Laughingthrushes do (source; of course, many other bird species do this as well).

 

In the (recently slightly diminished) tradition of this blog covering non-avian topics that presumably none of its readers are interested in, here is an unpaid intermission to plug a video by one of my favorite bands, The Burning Hell: “All I need”. As the band describes it, it is “an animated sci-fi Western short film/music video” that is well worth watching even if you mistakenly think that the music is not that good. End of advertisement.

The Black-browed Bushtit is not really all that different from the more widespread (including Shanghai) Black-throated Bushtit. Both have a black brow and a blackish throat. The weird and wonderful world of bird names again.

Apparently, it is the high-altitude counterpart to the Black-throated Bushtit. Presumably, the Latin species name bonvaloti is derived from the French explorer Gabriel Bonvalot (1853-1933), though I did not get a clear confirmation for that. This Bonvalot apparently was the typical ruthless explorer of those times – Wikipedia states that “As a European, Bonvalot felt superior to the locals and used threats or force to obtain equipment, supplies, pack animals and porters” and on another expedition “again coerced the population into providing horses and guides and even threatened the local commander with imprisonment”. Unsurprisingly and well-deservedly, his expedition was later detained by officials of the Tibetan government and not allowed to enter Lhasa. In any case, no reason to name a bird after him.

Like other bushtits, this species is quite social and shamelessly plays on its cuteness as its USP (if you do not know what USP means, congratulations – you definitely do not work in marketing).

As customary for the HBW, the Black-browed Bushtit is still treated as conspecific with the Rufous-fronted Bushtit, a distinction that Wikipedia already makes. I guess Wikipedia is more focused on birds than the HBW.

The Rufous-vented Tit is indeed rufous-vented, assuming that vent is a polite ornithological word for “ass” (indeed, merckvetmanual.com states that the vent is the outermost part of the cloaca).

The Spotted Nutcracker is regarded as a bit of a jerk among some plants, if this paper is to be believed. (Would you have believed that there is a scientific journal titled “Movement Ecology”? Me, definitely not).

Why? Well, the nutcracker frequently caches the seeds of the Swiss stone pine at low elevations in spruce forest, where the Swiss stone pine cannot grow. Wasted effort from the viewpoint of the tree, and a reason why many of these trees are rather fond of cats.

As their finding sounds a bit too straightforward and simple, the authors do not spare any effort to phrase their findings in a much more difficult and vague statement: “We conclude that the implications of such long-distance seed dispersal movements for plant populations should be carefully considered in combination with the effects of habitat quality on plant recruitment.” Congratulations.

Apparently, both parts of the Latin name Nucifraga caryocatactes basically just mean nutcracker, even though the second part sounds more like the name of a Brazilian samba band.

Why do nesting attempts of the Red-billed Blue Magpie sometimes fail? According to Chinese researchers, nest predation and brood parasitism are the two main reasons.

This not particularly surprising result does not keep authors from making some fairly grandiose claims at the end of the abstract: “This study provides the first reliable and comprehensive information on the reproductive parameters of U. erythrorhyncha, which will lay a foundation for further understanding this species’ biology and opens up an avenue for large-scale comparative studies of the Urocissa genus or higher-level taxa.”

Everybody wants to lay the groundwork, nobody wants to go into details. Maybe this can be delegated to some interns?

If you happen to live in St. Louis, USA, you can see the species at your local zoo.

eBird makes the White-browed Fulvetta sound like some kind of hobbit: “Chunky fulvetta of scrubby, stunted subalpine forests.”

The Latin species name vinipectus, or “wine(color)-breasted” does not immediately make much sense to me.

 

Drummers probably think that their individual style is unique and distinct – and maybe it is. Presumably, Great Spotted Woodpeckers think alike, given that there is a paper titled “Vocal individuality in drumming in great spotted woodpecker”.

Sometimes ornithological research must be deeply disappointing. For example, when researchers examined paternity in Great Spotted Woodpeckers, they probably already in their heads phrased a raunchy headline for their paper – probably not “Not made of wood?” but maybe “They sometimes drum where they should not drum”?

Instead, they found that in all 161 young from 36 broods were sired by the male feeding at the nest hole. What a bummer. As a consequence, the title of the paper is the rather boring “Parental care and parentage in monogamous great spotted woodpeckers”.

Fortunately, the only Streaked Rosefinch visiting the hide was a male. Yes, sexism, I know.

eBird is engaging in some borderline fat-shaming by calling it a large, bulky rosefinch.

The Latin name is a bit lame – rubicilloides, or “resembling rubicilla”, which is the species name of the Great Rosefinch.

Of course, Elliot’s Laughingthrush does not easily give up on its photobombing efforts.

As usual, the only negative aspect of this hide was a mammal – in this case, an old Chinese bird photographer, head to toe in camouflage gear, which given that he was in an almost fully inclosed hide was fairly ridiculous but probably made him feel more like a real man. He also seemed to think that any passing of my travel companion in front of his lens was a major infraction while at the same time being extremely tolerant of his own loud talking to the hide owner and on his cellphone. Well, you know, mammals.

Another mammal, fortunately not as noisy.

 

 


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