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Closing in on the Magic Double Century - 10,000 Birds

Six months of the year have now slipped by, so time to review the state of my bird lists – my UK list, and my European list. Three months ago the former was on 139, but it’s now grown to 180, while the European list was 173, but has now reached a much more satisfactory 303.   My target at the start of the year was 200 species in the UK and 300 in Europe, so I’ve achieved the latter, while the chances of reaching the former are pretty good. An everyday bird, the Woodpigeon. This one was photographed in my garden on a wet day in April. One tends to take woodies for granted Brown but not boring: a Meadow Pipit An everyday bird it might be, but the cock Blackbird’s song is one of the best. Blackbirds sing from February through to July My UK list is, in reality, an English list, as I haven’t wandered into the adjoining countries of Wales, Scotland and Ireland this year, and I have no plans to do so. Until last month it was an East Anglian list, as I hadn’t ventured far from home, but a trip to Northern England last month did add some northern specials, such as Dipper and Puffin. That trip was fun, as it reminded me of the delights of watching birds like Golden Plover and even Meadow Pipit on their breeding grounds. I see lots of Golden Plovers in the winter, but (like so many waders) they are birds transformed when in their breeding finery. Golden Plovers are so much more handsome when in full breeding plumage I’ve seen a mere 21 species of waders in the UK this year, compared with 35 in Europe, and it shouldn’t be difficult to add several of the birds I’ve seen in Europe to my UK list in the next few weeks, as autumn passage gains pace. I haven’t, for example, seen a Greenshank in the UK, nor a Spotted Redshank or Wood Sandpiper, all three of which are relatively easy to see on the Norfolk or Suffolk coasts in July and August. To be honest, this does highlight the slightly ridiculous practice of keeping two lists – why not just one? The answer is because BirdTrack (the bird- recording system I use most) reminds me whenever I log-in on the state of my British list, but I have to scroll down to Explore Data to check on how my overall World list (just Europe this year) is progressing.  Wood Sandpiper. This bird was in Cyprus in April; I have yet to see one this year in the UK There are, inevitably, a few birds that I really should have encountered by now but have failed to do so. I have seen only a single species of diver (loon) this year, Red-throated, but if I try hard enough it shouldn’t be too difficult to add Great Northern and Black-throated to the list by the end of the year. Nor have I see a skua (jaeger) of any species. Both Great and Arctic Skuas are not difficult to find in Norfolk in September, as they are attracted by the tern colonies as they migrate south. Pomarine and Long-tailed Skuas are also possibilities, and the former occasionally winter in the North Sea, off the Suffolk/Norfolk coast.  Though I have seen Red-throated Diver this year, I have yet to find either a Black-throated or Great Northern anywhere There are a number of birds that I’ve encountered just the once, but they were memorable encounters. One of the best was the Long-eared Owl which floated past me one evening when I was out looking for Nightjars on my local heath. It was too dark for photography, but great to see. Equally memorable was the Corncrake, rasping away at dusk on the Welney Washes in late June. Two centuries ago Corncrakes were common birds in Britain, but we now only have a small remnant population that survives on the islands of the Hebrides. The Corncrake I heard was part of a reintroduction project. For some people this devalues the bird, but it doesn’t for me, while this was the first time that I’d ever heard a Corncrake singing in England, with all my recent encounters in Eastern Europe.  Crakes are among the most elusive of birds, and none are easy to see in the UK. In Cyprus in April I delighted in watching several Little Crakes plus a splendid Baillon’s Crake, all of which proved easy to see, if not photograph. Spring migration is the best time to see these secretive birds, as once on the breeding grounds they tend to stay in cover and rarely show themselves.  Crakes are difficult to see on their breeding grounds. This Little Crake was on migration in Cyprus Raptors are always exciting to encounter, and I was delighted earlier in the year to enjoy a couple of sightings of wandering White-tailed Eagles in Norfolk. I haven’t done well with Golden Eagles, with just a single bird, seen briefly, in Greece, in May. For the first time in many visits I failed to see Griffon Vultures on Cyprus, where they are seriously endangered, but I have seen many in Spain this year in Andalucia and both Cantabria and Castile y León. Northern Spain also produced my best views of Honey Buzzards (I did see one briefly in Greece in May). Two years ago three summered in Norfolk, and I saw them several times, but there have been no reports this year, so this is one bird that seems unlikely to be added to my 2024 UK list. A wandering White-tailed Eagle in Norfolk in April. This was an unexpected encounter Griffon Vulture: common in Spain, but seriously endangered in Cyprus Shrikes are one of my favourite families of birds. My first shrike of the year was a Great Grey in the Brecks in March, not too far from home, while Kerkini in Greece gave me the opportunity...

Birding the Datang area, Yunnan - 10,000 Birds

The Datang area stretches North from Tengchong, with basically just one road (G219) having less and less traffic before it eventually peters out in a series of curves about 10 kilometers before reaching the border to Myanmar. Unfortunately, this makes it sound a bit more interesting for birding than it turned out for me – though admittedly, I spent less than a day there. And the area was recommended to me, so most likely my limited birding skills are to blame, rather than the birds themselves. That said, there were a few interesting birds, such as the Bar-throated Minla. Somewhat strangely, the HBW calls it a “small grey to yellow babbler” – while the species indeed has some grey parts, that is not the color that sticks to mind when seeing or remembering the bird. Apart from some limited description in the HBW, there is again rather limited information available on the species, perhaps because it does not usually live on university campuses and thus is not a preferred target for ornithologists. An Indian paper mocks the Beautiful Sibia when discussing the range-restricted species that can be seen at an Indian birding spot, the Eaglenest Sanctuary: “… the ubiquitous Beautiful Sibia Heterophasia pulchella, a drab ashy-grey bird titled beautiful!” That seems a bit unfair to me. I usually restrict my unfair jokes to humans. Plus the sibia apparently plays an important role in the pollination of one endangered rhododendron species (source). When searching for information on the Black-headed Sibia, I stumbled across a promising-sounding web page titled “Uncovering the Fascinating Behaviors of the Black-headed Sibia“. However, the article itself disappoints. The fascinating behavior mainly seems to be that the members of the species “search for insects and larvae in trees”. And the description of the unique appearance of the species is followed by what sounds like a disclaimer, namely that while “… the Black-headed Sibia has distinctive features, it can be confused with other bird species”. If that was not boring enough, somebody also analyzed the complete mitochondrial genome of the species. Seeing Blyth’s Shrike-babbler (or White-browed Shrike-babbler) allows me to mention one of my favorite bands, the UK-based Blyth Power (named after a locomotive, not named after the ornithologist Edward Blyth – somehow I suspect that the shrike-babbler is named after the latter though I kind of hope to be wrong). Blyth Power songs that can be accessed online and come with my own recommendation include “Animal Farm“, “Guns of Castle Cary” “Alnwick & Tyne” and “Better to bat“. Advice to bird species that want to get featured on this blog: Don’t choose names that are too similar to names of my favorite bands. For example, a hypothetical National Bulbul would have no chance to get any coverage here. This is in contrast to the Brown-chested Bulbul. This bird may at some point may have failed to pay its membership fees to eBird – at least judging from the rather hostile description of the species as a “large dull bulbul of scrubby forest edges, farmland, and parks”. Makes the species almost sound a bit apocalyptic. A paper on the species asks the important question “Does nest sanitation elicit egg rejection in an open-cup nesting cuckoo host rejecter?” To rephrase: if you put some trash into a nest of a bird along with a cuckoo egg, does that improve the chance that the cuckoo egg will be kicked out? How to find out? Here is what the paper says: “In the first group, we added a blue, non-mimetic egg to the nest of the host, while in the second group we added a blue, non-mimetic egg and a peanut half-shell.” So, either just a fake egg or a fake egg and trash (a peanut shell). And the result: all peanut shells were expelled, but the ejection rate of the fake eggs was the same in both groups and (I think) quite low at about 53%. So, potentially plenty of cuckoo chicks would have been raised by the bulbuls. Poor bulbuls, but then again, they are large dull birds anyway, according to eBird. Scientifically speaking, the result is this: “Our study indicated that nest sanitation behavior of Brown-breasted Bulbuls did not influence their egg recognition and that egg discrimination ability of Brown-breasted Bulbuls was not directly related to nest sanitation behavior.” My guess is that this is an Eastern Buzzard. But feel free to disagree. While there are many explanations for how new species might develop, I still find some of the suggested mechanisms a bit implausible. The Eastern Buzzard is an example of how this might happen in reality (source). Aparently, there are two subspecies, one on the Japanese islands and one on the Asian mainland. While they winter together on some of the Western islands of Japan, they then migrate along very different pathways, one on the mainland and one along the string of Japanese islands. As the Sea of Japan is in between these two pathways (and buzzards neither like to swim nor to fly long distances over water due to the lack of thermals), these pathways seem to be quite separate from each other, and indeed the two subspecies have been genetically separate for about 0.8 million years (which is a long time for example when watching a boring movie, but not a very long period by the generous standards of evolution). Green-backed Tits seem to have been studied fairly extensively by ornithologists, which makes me wonder whether the species prefers nesting on university campuses or near good yet affordable hotels. For example, one study found that male tit parents prefer to feed large and medium-sized chicks while female tits make no such distinction. Judging from my experience in the human world, a very predictable result. Another study had a similarly predictable result: Green-backed Tits are able to discriminate against eggs of the wrong color (for example, added by a cuckoo) unless it is too dark. (Under pressure, I might admit that the actual findings of...