Miyun Reservoir is Beijing’s largest and most important drinking water reservoir. Until public access was forbidden in 2016, this site was the premier birding site in the capital, providing wonderful habitat for a range of waterbirds, including important numbers of cranes (incredibly, seven species – Common, Demoiselle, Hooded, Red-crowned, Sandhill, Siberian, and White-naped – have been recorded here) and the surrounding scrub attracted thousands of passerines in winter, including the first records of the endangered Jankowski’s Bunting in the capital for 75 years in the winters of 2015/2016 and 2016/2017.
Sadly, after a fire in the area, the vegetation was ripped out and replaced with trees, a disaster for wintering passerines and making the area no longer suitable for cranes and other large birds such as Great Bustard.
After some conversations with the government about the England’s experience of managing its largest reservoir for water quality and wildlife, in 2019 the Beijing government invited Tim Appleton, former manager of the Rutland Water Nature Reserve, to Beijing to meet officials and share his experience. That visit took place almost exactly a year ago.
We knew that change would not happen overnight but it is heartening that, a year on, I can report some progress.
September 2020 marked the 60th anniversary of the reservoir’s creation, prompting President Xi Jinping to write a letter to local residents to thank them for protecting the capital’s most important water source. Sparked by that letter, the Beijing government convened a meeting to discuss how the reservoir should be managed in future. I was honoured to be invited and to present my ideas about how the reservoir could be managed for wildlife as well as water, explaining how important the site is for migratory and wintering birds, including the occurrence of important numbers of cranes and other waterbirds, as well as the records of the Jankowski’s Bunting (of which they were unaware). Miyun Reservoir had the potential to become a world-class wetland reserve, boosting the local economy and improving Beijing’s image in the process… and with China hosting the important meeting of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in 2021, what better time to show how Beijing was making its contribution towards stemming biodiversity loss?
I was one of eight people in the meeting, with most of the others promoting forestry-related ideas. Although there is surely a role for forests and tree-planting, it would not be appropriate, and in fact would be detrimental to many migratory birds, to manage the site solely for this purpose.
The result of the meeting was the formation of a “Working Group” to develop proposals. I was honoured to be invited to join and we are planning our first field visit to the reservoir in late October.
We are still a long long way from securing any management changes that may be beneficial to wildlife but it is heartening to see an openness to ideas and I feel we now have a genuine chance to influence the way ahead, especially with China hosting the UN conference on biological diversity, meaning biodiversity issues are probably higher on the agenda than ever.
I want to put on record my thanks to Tim Appleton for visiting Beijing in 2019 and for encouraging those first steps. I’d also like to thank Madeleine Donahue for providing the wonderful illustration at the top of this post, showing how the reservoir could be managed in future – for water, for birds and for people.
Watch this space!
Title image: an artist’s impression of how Miyun Reservoir could be managed in future – for water, for birds and for people. By Madeleine Donahue.
When I first moved to Beijing, ten years ago, I can remember clearly the reaction of most people on hearing I was a birder: “Why have you come to Beijing? There are no birds in Beijing!”
This was disappointing news… but I had trouble believing it. Although there was almost no English-language information about the birds of China’s capital city, I had heard about the fantastic migration at Beidaihe and the almost mythical “Happy Island”, just a few hours away in Hebei Province. Surely, Beijing couldn’t be that bad?
Of course, as I began to explore, I quickly realised that Beijing was a brilliant place for birds. Not only did I see some species I could only dream about in the UK (Siberian Rubythroat, Siberian Blue Robin, Brown Shrike and Thick-billed Warbler all graced the tiny green space around my central Beijing apartment block in the first few weeks), it was the sheer numbers of birds that impressed me. Flocks of buntings hundreds strong, invasions of wagtails, squadrons of honey buzzards and swarms of leaf warblers awed me in my first few months.
At that time, there were very few birders in Beijing and it felt as if I had more chance of finding a first for Beijing than seeing another birder. How times have changed. Today, any visit to a known birding spot, on any day of the week, will almost certainly result in meeting fellow birders and, as a result, more and more discoveries are being made, not only of vagrants but previously undiscovered or new breeding birds such as Grey-winged Blackbird, Swinhoe’s Minivet and Slaty-backed Flycatcher.
With the most recent update of the official ‘Beijing list’ – the list of species reliably recorded – completed as far back as 2014, and the subsequent explosion of birding, a review of the list has been long overdue and, in recent months, a team led by Professor Zhao Xinru at Beijing Normal University, has been thoroughly reviewing past records and adding recent new records with a view to publishing an up to date list. The number of species recorded up to 2014 was 456. As of 2020 it is over 500 (although the new list has yet to be published – watch this space – we expect the revision of the list to come out somewhere around 510). To save the mathematically challenged, that’s an increase of c54 in six years, an average of nine new species per year. A remarkable change.
So where does Beijing rank alongside other major capital cities? To gain a sense of where Beijing stands, I did some rather crude research online using data from eBird, Avibase and, where available, data from local birding societies. This is the result:
G20 Capitals and the number of bird species recorded
Source: eBird, Avibase and local birdwatching societies
*Beijing’s official list is under revision. This figure is an estimate and will be updated when the official figure is available.
Even though the figures are unlikely to be 100% accurate for some cities (I welcome contributions from birders in these cities to make the data more accurate), the relative position of Beijing is unlikely to change – second only to Brasilia in the capital cities of G20 countries.
So why is Beijing so good?
There are two main reasons. The first is Beijing’s size – according to the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Statistics, the capital covers a relatively large area of 16,410.5 km2 encompassing a variety of habitats from mountains to the north and west, wetlands, grassland and a network of large parks.
The second is location. Looking at a map, to the north is the vast and relatively sparsely-populated (by humans) Siberia, home to taiga forests and tundra. In the northern summer, insect populations explode, meaning it is worth the investment for birds to migrate north to take advantage of the glut of food – they can reproduce faster, and raise more young, than if they stayed further south. Of course, in the winter, this vast area is incredibly cold, most insects die and, as a result, most birds must fly south to find food and shelter. This mass autumn exodus happens over several months, primarily from July to November, with different species leaving at different times. Some will stop in Beijing for the winter, some will continue to southern China or Southeast Asia, and some will go as far as Australia, New Zealand or, as we have seen with the cuckoos, swifts and Amur Falcons, to southern Africa.
As we enter autumn, East China turns into a bird superhighway with birds heading south from a broad swathe of Siberia, many of which funnel east to avoid crossing the Gobi Desert. Beijing, with its varied habitats of mountains, wetlands, forests, grassland and a network of parks, is an attractive service station. Just a small fraction of the tens of millions of birds that pass over Beijing during this season (most undetected at night) will take the opportunity to stop in the capital to rest, find food and water, offering us the chance to encounter them. And of course in spring, the reverse happens as these birds return north to Siberia to breed. So it is in spring and autumn, in particular, that Beijing – and indeed the whole of eastern China – bears witness to a world-class birding spectacle.
The sheer volume of birds was something that stunned me when I arrived here and there is no doubt that location is everything. Recalling my birding days at home in Norfolk, England, I would be delighted to see a single Common Redstart or a Wryneck on my local patch at Winterton-on-Sea, usually coinciding with easterly winds. One look at a map shows why the migration of land birds on my local patch was relatively small… with only a few hundred kilometres of land to the north and, after that, the Arctic Ocean; there is no Siberia to the north of the UK to supply the birds and we relied on birds ‘drifting’ from continental Europe.
Slowly, but surely, more and more people are learning about the rich birdlife in Beijing. As well as more people picking up binoculars for the first time, thanks to the media increasingly reporting on the natural world, more and more of the general public are understanding, to the surprise of many, that Beijing is a good place for birds and other wildlife. The projects to track Beijing’s iconic Swifts and Cuckoos have certainly helped, discovering for the first time the migration of these incredible travellers from Beijing to Africa, receiving significant mainstream media coverage. However, it is the grassroots awakening that has been most impressive. Young students setting up nature clubs at their schools, the countless local groups organising field trips and lectures to introduce people to nature and volunteers spending much of their free time educating people about wild birds and patrolling to catch the illegal bird hunters, a practice that still goes on in the capital but is certainly diminishing here, thanks also in part to increased enforcement by the local police.
So, as I celebrate ten years in Beijing, it’s encouraging to see that awareness about the birds of Beijing is growing… The next step is to turn that awareness into pride, building more support for policies and measures that work towards protecting and enhancing the environment for birds. I firmly believe that, with some small changes to how the environment is managed in Beijing, this brilliant city could overtake Brasilia as the best G20 capital for birding. Let’s make it happen!
In my opinion, the binocular, or binoculars as they are commonly known, is one of humankind’s greatest inventions. Whether it’s birds, mammals or even insects, a good pair of binoculars transforms our engagement with the natural world, allowing us to observe, from a distance that minimises disturbance, details way beyond the natural capabilities of the human eye. They help us to determine whether that movement on the edge of the forest 100m away was a wild cat or just branches moving in the wind, and whether the Phylloscopus warbler that moved through the canopy overhead had two wing-bars or only one, thus helping us to identify it with certainty. In short, they add another dimension to our experience in the outdoors.
Since the first attempts at fixing two telescopes side by side in the 17th century, many advances have been made in binocular manufacturing. Modern binoculars are lightweight, use high-precision glass and cutting-edge machine technology to make the image we see as clear, bright and sharp as possible, even in low light conditions.
The law of diminishing returns tells us that, over time, efforts to improve binoculars will gradually lead to fewer and less significant advances. However, just occasionally, there are breakthroughs that prove the exception, leading to a noticeable step forward. Having just spent a few days testing the new Swarovski Optik NL Pure, I can say with confidence that this new flagship binocular represents one such advance!
Over the last few days, since I opened the package from Swarovski in my front room, I have tested the NL Pure 8×42 in dull, almost dark, conditions when caught in a deluge during a thunderstorm in the mountains while watching dragonflies and on a hot, bright and sunny day on my local patch in urban Beijing watching breeding Zitting Cisticolas, newly-fledged Red-rumped Swallows and migrant Yellow-breasted Buntings. Am I impressed? You bet.
Having been spoiled by the flagship EL 8×32, I was intrigued, and to be honest a little sceptical, that the new NL Pure could improve on the EL. I am no longer sceptical.
There are two big things that make the NL Pure so good.
The first – and the thing that jumps out at you as soon as you pick them up – is the new ergonomic design of the barrels. They simply fit perfectly into the hand and, in a direct comparison test with the EL, I found the NL easier to hold for long periods. As I am often out in the field for hours at a time, comfort has always been an important factor, which is why I tend to prefer the lighter 8x rather than the more powerful, but heavier, models of binocular. The ergonomics of the NL Pure are a big plus for me and, if you invest in the revolutionary forehead rest, the comfort level increases again, acting like an image stabiliser.
The second thing is the field of view. At the online launch presentation by Swarovski, Wolfgang Schwarz, Deputy Head of Product Management said:
“In the past, we have talked about edge-to-edge sharpness. But there is one thing that’s even better – no edges at all.”
Of course, in reality, there are edges to the image but I can see what he means. The model I tested (NL Pure 8×42) has a field of view of 159m/1000m compared with 133m/1000m for the EL 8.5×42. There is no doubt that a wider field of view increases the chances of detecting more, whether it’s birds, mammals or any other wildlife. In a direct comparison between the NL Pure and the EL, the difference is startling.
The NL Pure is simply the best binocular I have ever experienced.
Today, 1 September, the NL Pure goes on general release. To celebrate, together with 7 colleagues across Asia, from Borneo to India, I participated in a live birding webcast as part of Swarovski Optik’s continental birding series. You can see the recording here. Enjoy!
Spreading the word about the birds and other wildlife of Beijing is so important if we are to build support for policies and measures to protect the capital’s wildlife and the places it needs. So I didn’t hesitate to agree when CCTV, China’s national broadcaster, contacted me and asked me to take them birding as part of a feature on the birds of Beijing to be broadcast later this autumn.
Although it’s only mid-August, autumn migration is already in full swing with shorebirds and passerines such as pipits, wagtails and some of the early buntings passing through Beijing. At this time of year, there is no better site in Beijing than Ma Chang, on the shores of Guanting Reservoir in Yanqing County.
Given the heat of Beijing in August, I recommended an early start and, to their credit, the CCTV crew agreed to collect me at 0430 for the one and a half hour drive to Ma Chang. On site shortly after sunrise, we were treated to a beautiful, still early morning and a good variety of birds.
Most obvious were the noisy breeding Black-winged Stilts with several well-grown young joining their parents in the shallows and one relatively young bird waiting to be fed and just looking cute.
Six Relict Gulls, including one carrying a transmitter, provided an opportunity to discuss how scientists are learning about the incredible journeys of migratory birds and, in particular, how the whole population of the Relict Gull, a bird described to science as recently as the 1970s, relies on the Bohai Bay/Yellow Sea in winter.
A few Red-necked Stints, a Temminck’s Stint, several Long-toed Stints and a cracking juvenile Broad-billed Sandpiper brought us onto the subject of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway and the incredible journeys of these tiny shorebirds from Arctic breeding grounds to non-breeding grounds in the southern hemisphere, including the importance of stopover sites or ‘service stations’ on this bird ‘superhighway’.
Flyover Richard’s Pipits and Eastern Yellow Wagtails, many of which were calling, gave a glimpse of migration in action and we spoke about how, although some birds migrate during the day, many pass over the city at night, undetected, as we sleep. In total we recorded 50 species by late morning and the crew secured some high quality footage of some of the stars of the show. As we began to pack up, a few Globe Skimmer dragonflies mating and ovipositing in a pool next to the car reminded us that it’s not only birds that migrate incredible distances.. some individuals of this species have been known to travel 6,000km.
The reporter was overwhelmed with what she saw and experienced at Ma Chang and, as we returned to the city, she spoke of her hopes to do much more to cover ‘Wild Beijing’… so fingers crossed we can work together more to help promote awareness of just how special the Chinese capital is for birds and other wildlife.
In the meantime, the CCTV/CGTN feature on migratory birds in Beijing will be shown sometime in the autumn.
Title image: CCTV/CGTN capturing Relict Gulls on film at Ma Chang
On 11 July, local birders Wei Chunzhi, Ren Lipeng and He Yongzhou visited Lingshan, Beijing’s highest mountain, to try to see some of the special breeding birds that are rarely seen in the city. They were rewarded with sightings not only of their main target species – Slaty-backed Flycatcher – but also a big surprise.
Wei Chunzhi tells the story of their adventure, complete with some beautiful photos of the bird and the scenery, and how the sighting of an odd shrike turned into a first for Beijing.
How a Brown Shrike turned into a Grey-backed Shrike!
“My name is Wei Chunzhi (Tracey), a relatively new birder who loves to go birding in Beijing. On 11 July 2020 I visited Lingshan with two friends, Ren Lipeng and He Yongzhou. We were shocked to find a Grey-backed Shrike, the first record of this species in Beijing! Magical days like this are a lot of fun…
Lingshan, as Beijing’s highest mountain, is cool in summer and, with birding slow in the heat of the city during that season, it’s a good place to visit to see some target birds such as Slaty-backed Flycatcher, Rosy Pipit and many other birds that are rarely seen in the city.
It’s hard work to hike at 2,000m while carrying cameras and binoculars. As we were walking up, I suddenly saw a dark bird sitting on top of a cedar tree about 10-20 metres away. I quickly alerted Ren Lipeng and pointed him at the bird. He couldn’t see it at first and then the bird flew. Fortunately, it didn’t fly far and landed on top of another tree close by. This time, both of my friends saw it and managed to take some photographs. Using my ‘toy camera’ and focusing manually, I could only manage a photo of the branches shaking immediately after the bird flew!
After looking at the photos, He Yongzhou confidently announced “Brown Shrike!” (a fairly common breeder in lowland Beijing and a very common passage migrant). Ren Lipeng said it looked a bit like a Grey-backed Shrike and asked me to look at the photo. I also thought the bird looked grey-backed but then thought it must be the greyish subspecies of Brown Shrike (ssp lucionensis) . There are no other shrikes except Chinese Grey, Bull-headed, Brown and Long-tailed. We didn’t spend any more time on the bird and carried on to look for the Slaty-backed Flycatcher and other birds. The joy of seeing many good species – such as Rosy Pipit and the Slaty-backed Flycatcher – made us forget our doubts about the shrike and we marked it as a Brown Shrike on our eBird checklist.
When reviewing the Field Guide to the Birds of China by John MacKinnon we looked at the lucionensis subspecies of Brown Shrike and I felt it was not this bird. After getting copies of the photos from Ren Lipeng and He Yongzhou, I sent the photos to Huang Hanchen who also sent them to Guan Xiangyu, both experienced birders. They responded that it was a Grey-backed Shrike, not only a new species for me but also a new record for Beijing. After learning this news, the three of us were very happy!
This is a story of a Brown Shrike ‘turning into’ a Grey-backed Shrike. Birding not only brings us these exciting moments but also takes us into nature where we can relax, feel calm and enjoy the simple pleasures of life. It reminds us of the main theme of the Chinese Lao Zhuang philosophy – the law of nature.”
Big congratulations to Wei Chunzhi, Ren Lipeng and He Yongzhou for their brilliant find and huge thanks for telling their story and for allowing the use of their photographs. Grey-backed Shrike is typically a bird of the Himalayas, including the Tibetan Plateau, breeding at elevations from 2,700-4,500+ metres above sea level (Birds of the World). It has been recorded as far east as Shanxi Province in summer and at Beidaihe/Happy Island on at least two occasions in spring, so it’s not a complete surprise that it has turned up in the mountains of the capital but, nevertheless, it’s a wonderful addition to the list of species recorded in Beijing. What next?!
Summer is a good time to experience the wealth of Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) that grace our local patches and, given the birding is usually relatively quiet at this season, the number of insect enthusiasts is often swelled by birders for a couple of months of the year.
It’s overdue to include information on Birding Beijing about these flying insects and so I am pleased to finally publish a dedicated page, accessible from the main menu. The page includes a downloadable PDF of the 60 species of dragonfly and damselfly to be found in Beijing, including scientific, Chinese (including pinyin) and English common names where available.
I am planning to supplement the list with images taken in the capital, slowly building up a library of images showing the different sexes and ages. The image gallery currently has only eight species, so there is much room for expansion! If you have any images of Odonata from Beijing that you are willing to share, particularly of species not yet illustrated, please contact me using the form on the dedicated page.
Special thanks you to Yue Ying who provided a list of species found in Beijing.
Title image: a Dusky Lilysquatter, Paracercion calamorum dyeri, 苇尾蟌, in the Olympic Forest Park, 26 June 2020 (Terry Townshend)
This morning news broke of an exciting discovery in Mongolia. During a feasibility study for the World Heritage nomination of the Eastern Mongolian Steppes, a joint team from the Mongolian Bird Conservation Center and the Eastern Mongolian Protected Area Administration discovered two breeding colonies of the globally endangered Jankowski’s Bunting (Emberiza jankowskii).
The discovery was revealed in a Facebook post by the Mongolian Bird Conservation Center and was accompanied by some images of the birds and the habitat, including a fantastic image of an adult Jankowski’s Bunting feeding a juvenile.
The text of the post is as follows:
“During the field survey of a feasibility study on World heritage nomination for Eastern Mongolian Steppes, a joint team of Mongolian Bird Conservation Center and Eastern Mongolian Protected Area Administration have discovered two sites of a breeding colony of Jankowski’s Bunting Emberiza jankowskii from southeastern Mongolia, 7 June 2020. The species believed to be vagrant in the country before. Both sites were mountain hills and dominated by Stipa grasses and shrubs. The first site locates within the Protected Area, where there is no human influence and no livestock grazing, and a second site found near the village where there both threats exist and no protection. A team collected data on habitat requirements and checked all valleys, especially for the first site. All the valleys were occupied by the breeding buntings and this site provides the best habitat for nesting buntings. We believe that there can be more potential breeding mountains in the east, especially east of the SPA, a team member said. More surveys needed to estimate the population distribution and determine the threats because there can be threats from livestock grazing in the areas where there is no protection. Therefore, a team is looking for collaborators to survey for this globally endangered bunting in the further. In addition, MBCC team is working on a publication of the bunting based on their findings at the moment.”
This is wonderful news and it’s reassuring to hear that one of the sites lies within a protected area.
Jankowski’s Bunting (Emberiza jankowskii) is globally endangered after suffering a precipitous population decline in recent decades, thought to be due mainly to an increase in livestock and conversion of its traditional grassland habitat to agriculture. For background about this species and recent developments, see here.
The discovery of breeding Jankowski’s Bunting in Mongolia is a shot in the arm, and some rare good news, for bird conservationists in East Asia. And whilst more needs to be done to survey this newly discovered population and establish its status, the finding opens up the possibility of collaboration between Mongolia’s southeast Dornod Province and adjacent Inner Mongolia, which hosts the bulk of China’s remaining population.
For now, big congratulations to the team and I look forward to hearing more in due course.
Here is a short video of Jankowsk’s Bunting on the breeding grounds in Inner Mongolia from 2016.
Cover image: a male Jankowski’s Bunting from Inner Mongolia, May 2013.
In the last few days, there has been significant media coverage, including this article in The Guardian, about the removal of pangolin scales from the approved list of ingredients for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The news of the delisting from the TCM pharmacopoeia comes hot on the heels of an announcement last week by the State Forestry and Grassland Administration (SFGA) that the protected status of pangolins had been raised to the highest level, with immediate effect.
In the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak, China announced an immediate ban on the wildlife trade for consumption but the wildlife trade for TCM was unaffected. These new announcements about the pangolin, the world’s most heavily trafficked animal, represent a major step forward.
Before the recent announcement, there was a legal, but regulated, trade in pangolin scales, ostensibly from government stockpiles, for TCM in China. However, transparency, awareness and enforcement was poor. One study found around 30% of 134 pharmaceutical shops were selling pangolin scale medicine and illegal pangolin products were even found in some of the hospitals authorised to sell pangolin scales. Yet, alarmingly, the doctors and practitioners involved were unaware that their behaviour was illegal.
So, although laws are necessary, they are not sufficient. As Yifu says, awareness among the public and TCM practitioners and enforcement by authorities, have equally significant roles to play in reducing the demand for, and supply of, pangolin scales.
TCM is being heavily promoted by the Chinese government internationally, including through its flagship “Belt and Road” initiative to revitalise old trading routes into Central Asia and Africa. The TCM industry is worth around USD 60 billion a year, according to a World Health Organisation (WHO) Bulletin, and growing at around 11 percent annually. Even though wildlife parts represent only a small fraction of TCM ingredients, under its current trajectory and with existing approved ingredients, TCM will have an increasing negative impact on wildlife, including many endangered species. In a recent report, ADM Capital Foundation said that the TCM industry accounted for more than three-quarters of the trade in endangered wildlife products in Hong Kong over the past 5 years.
If TCM is serious about wanting to be accepted more widely, there is a growing responsibility to reduce its impact on wildlife and, ultimately, that means delisting ALL wildlife ingredients.
In the meantime, let’s hope these announcements are not too late for the beleaguered pangolin.
Title image: Pangolins of the world (IUCN Pangolin Specialist Group)
Back in 2018 I reported on the discovery by ShanShui Conservation Center of an active den of the Chinese Mountain Cat (Felis bieti) on the Tibetan Plateau. This felid, endemic to China, is one of the most poorly known in the world. Based on fieldwork over the following months and with the help of infra-red cameras, researchers captured hours of footage of a mother and her two young kittens. In total, five breeding dens were discovered, and 33 sightings were recorded.
Now, after painstaking analysis of the footage (more than 7,500 images and 3,000 video clips), much previously unknown information concerning this cat species and its ecology has been revealed and the findings have been published in an article in Zoological Research and can be read and downloaded in PDF format here.
With the kind permission of Han Xuesong, the lead author, I am including below a short video compilation of the mother and kittens that were studied in autumn and winter 2018. It includes the cats emerging from a den, playing, the mother bringing back food and interactions with two potential threats – an Upland Buzzard and a Tibetan Fox.
With a limited distribution on the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau, Chinese Mountain Cat is among the most elusive and vulnerable of the world’s cats and this data will be vital to help better understand, and therefore protect, this beautiful cat.
Big congratulations to Han Xuesong and the ShanShui team, especially the local rangers, Jihti, Tserdo, and Lulu, for their discovery and the subsequent publication of this article.
Title image: Chinese Mountain Cat (Felis bieti) on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau (ShanShui Conservation Center)
It is with a heavy heart that I must report the loss of Баян (BAYAN), one of the Mongolian Cuckoos.
The last signals received from his tag were at 1035 local time on 12 May 2020 and showed him almost exactly 100km north of Kunming in China’s Yunnan Province. Since then, there has been radio silence. The following analysis of the data from BAYAN’s tag was provided by Dr Chris Hewson of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) who fitted the tag to BAYAN in Mongolia in June 2019:
“…there were some slightly unusually high temps around 1000 local time on 9/5 – reaching 40-41 C on the scale of the PTTs, compared to a normal max in the high c 35 C even in Africa (it does rise to around 37-38 C on occasion though). The tag temperature was also pretty cool the next morning, probably cooler than it should be – down to about 26 C, which is probably indicative of lack of regulation of tag temp due to behaviour / absence of body temp buffering of temp. My best guess, all things considered, is that Bayan died between 1000 8/5 and 1000 9/5. The circumstances of disappearance are similar to Flappy who died in Myanmar on spring migration. These birds are really racing on spring migration, which might leave them vulnerable to not finding good stopovers / predation etc.”
In the small hope that the tag’s temperature sensor was malfunctioning or there was an alternative explanation, we waited a few days for further signals. None were forthcoming, strongly suggesting that BAYAN had indeed died on 8 or 9 May 2020.
It is always sad when we lose a tracked bird but we should celebrate his life and the impact he has had on people around the world.
After crossing the Arabian Sea to India, hot on the heels of ONON, he captivated a country with an incredible surge of interest among people in India, most of whom were previously unaware of the distances travelled by some of the most familiar migratory birds. Below are just a few of the reactions to BAYAN’s crossing of the Arabian Sea:
BAYAN is almost going in same path as ONON, we are waiting to welcome BAYAN in India🇮🇳
One of the main purposes of the project was to reach and inspire more people about the wonders of bird migration. Judging from the reaction on social media, BAYAN certainly did that.
Being able to follow the incredible journeys of these cuckoos opens our eyes to the phenomenal endurance of these birds and the mind-boggling distances they travel. It also reminds us that migratory birds live life on the edge with little margin for error.
If there is one message BAYAN, whose name translates as “prosper”, could carry with him, I am sure it would be something like this:
“Migratory birds like me don’t recognise human borders. We travel around the Earth, crossing oceans and deserts, powered sustainably by caterpillars, just to survive and breed. As humans, you are changing the planet in profound ways. Please ensure there are places for us to rest and refuel along the way so that we all may prosper.”
The fact that we last heard from BAYAN close to Kunming, Yunnan Province in China is fitting. Next year, this city is due to host the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, at which governments are due to agree a “new deal for nature” including targets to slow and reverse the loss of biodiversity. In many ways it is the most important meeting ever on nature.
Wouldn’t it be good to think that BAYAN’s legacy is to send his message to delegates to the UN meeting in Kunming?
Thank you to everyone who has supported, followed and engaged with Баян (BAYAN) and the other Mongolian Cuckoos during this project. You have all helped to raise awareness about migratory birds and the places they need.
BAYAN’s journey at a glance:
7 June 2019: fitted with a tag (number 170437) at Khurkh in northern Mongolia.
11 June 2019: named by schoolchildren at Khurkh Village School
7 June 2019 to 9 May 2020: Mongolia – China – Myanmar – India – Bangladesh – India – Oman – Saudi Arabia – Yemen – Saudi Arabia – Eritrea – Ethiopia – South Sudan – Kenya – Uganda – Kenya – Tanzania – Mozambique – Malawi – Mozambique – Malawi – Mozambique – Zambia – Malawi – Tanzania – Kenya – Somalia – India – Bangladesh – India – Myanmar – China (31 border crossings involving 18 countries)