Flappy McFlapperson Skybomb Bolt Mèng zhī juān
6 February 2017
It is now more than two months since we heard from Skybomb. Many of his followers on social media have consequently been concerned about his condition. The BTO’s cuckoo expert, Chris Hewson, has looked at the data and examined the signals we received leading up to 19 November (when we last heard from his tag) for clues as to his fate. The transmissions from the tag include data about battery charge and temperature. The former can give indications of whether a tag is functioning well, since battery failure and lack of battery charge due to shading of the solar cells are the most likely tag-related causes of losing contact with the bird. And the latter can give a strong indication as to whether the bird is alive, due to the bird’s body temperature buffering the temperature sensor from the wide swings in air temperature from day to night.
Chris’s analysis shows that the tag appeared to be working normally until transmissions were lost on 19 November. There is, however, a clear drop in temperature during daylight hours on 19th. Combined with the fact that we subsequently received no transmissions from the tag, this suggests that Skybomb probably died during that period and that the tag came to rest in a position where the solar cells could not charge the battery and / or the signals transmitted could not reach passing satellites. Although in theory these symptoms would also be produced if the tag became detached from the bird, this possibility is unlikely given the harness designed used. We must, therefore, assume that Skybomb has perished.
It is no exaggeration to say that Skybomb will be sorely missed. He was the first of the Beijing Cuckoos to make the sea crossing from India to Africa, followed and cheered on by thousands on social media. He featured in media articles in China, India, Qatar, Russia, UK and, of course, his “passport photo” even made it to the front cover of the New York Times. As well as his fame, helping to reach thousands if not millions of people, he was a scientific pioneer, showing us for the first time where the Beijing Cuckoos spent the winter and the route they took to get there. His demise is a reminder of the incredible risks faced by these birds and the marathon, perilous, journeys they take simply to survive and breed.
Even in death, a cuckoo can provide important information. Knowing when and where in their annual cycles birds meet their fate is important from both the scientific and conservation standpoints as, given large enough samples, patterns can point to dangers, stresses and risks. One might think that the most high-risk part of the annual cycle is the sea crossing, as it must be completed non-stop, without any opportunity for rest or food. Skybomb, however, completed that journey with aplomb. On the face of it, the area in which he succumbed looks great for food and shelter. Predation could have been the cause of death but we can only speculate.
Whatever the reason for Skybomb’s demise, the Beijing Cuckoo Project Team is in awe of this amazing cuckoo and we celebrate his life. Thank you, Skybomb Bolt. You’ll be missed.
4 January 2017
We’ve not picked up a signal from Skybomb for more than 3 weeks, which is a little worrying. We are hoping that he is simply under dense cover, meaning that the battery on his tag isn’t charging and/or the signal from the tag is not penetrating the canopy. It’s not unprecedented to lose contact with a bird for weeks, or even months, at a time, so we remain hopeful that he’s ok. Fingers are crossed that we pick up his signal again soon.
16 November 2016
He’s still going! Now Skybomb is 300km south of yesterday’s position, which puts him in Zambezia Province, Mozambique.
15 November 2016
Skybomb doesn’t hang around! Just 2 days after crossing the equator, Skybomb has moved more than 1,000km south, across Tanzania, and is now in Mozambique!
13 November 2016
After around a week resting in Somalia after his marathon sea crossing, Skybomb has headed south into Kenya. This journey means we have another milestone in the Beijing Cuckoo Project – the first tagged Beijing Cuckoo to cross the equator!
6 November 2016
Skybomb has made a relatively short (by his standards!) 170km move to the south to what looks like a good area for feeding.. this area, around 180km northeast of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, often hosts staging Amur Falcons during their equally epic migration from NE China to eastern Africa.
31 October 2016
Skybomb has made it! He’s the first Beijing Cuckoo to reach Africa. A position from the evening of 30 October puts him around 300km inland since he reached the Somali coast. He’s just about reached what looks to be a good feeding area, with rain having fallen in the last few days. That’s a single, non-stop journey of more than 3,700km in just under 4 days. What an unbelievable bird!
30 October 2016
As of 1530 UK time, Skybomb is less than 100km from Africa! He’s now flown more than 3,300km non-stop from central India. Fortunately, looking at local weather, he has a 20km/h tail wind to help him reach land. An astonishing migration… keep going!!
29 October 2016
Just WOW! After almost a month in central India, Skybomb has made a move… and what a move! He has headed out over the Indian Ocean towards Africa..! He’s already flown more than 2,000km from his previous position and, on his current heading, still has more than 1,500km to go to reach land in Somalia. Simply staggering. Keep going Skybomb!
30 September 2016
Well, that didn’t last long. After his brief stop in Maharashstra and a return to his previous position in Telangana, he has now moved around 200km south and is less than 30km northeast of Hyderabad.
29 September 2016
After a brief stop in Maharashstra, Skybomb has back-tracked to his previous location in Telangana! This kind of backward step is not uncommon in cuckoos on migration. The reasoning for such moves is not clear but it may suggest unsuitable conditions in the new location, prompting a return to an area that is known to provide good feeding.
27 September 2016
Skybomb continues his Indian adventure, hopping around 100km west from Telangana to Maharashtra. Is he just hanging out? Or preparing for a sea crossing?
24 September 2016
Skybomb is motoring… overnight he has travelled another 600km southwest and is now in northern Telangana on a course that will take him to Goa on the west coast. Not a bad place to spend the winter… or will he go further?
23 September 2016
Skybomb has taken another step to the west and is now in northern Chhattisgarh. Suresh’s prediction (see entry from 22 September) is spot on so far!
22 September 2016
Suresh Kumar from the Wildlife Institute of India has kindly offered his local analysis of Skybomb’s movements:
“Skybomb is moving through hilly territory in what we know as the Chota Nagpur Plateau. This is the iron ore and coal mining belt of India and primarily inhabited by tribal communities. There are some good moist semi-deciduous forests here dominated by Sal (Shorea robusta), a hardwood species.
I suspect Skybomb will continue to maintain his course heading west that will take him through the Vindhya and Satpura hill ranges. He will then arrive in the western seaboard of Gujarat or Maharashtra State (see map below) from where the African coastline is relatively closer. If this will be Skybomb’s route, then he will have to make an oceanic crossing.
Will wait and watch”
Thanks Suresh – really appreciate the local insights!
20 September 2016
Another westerly movement of about 300km from Skybomb and he’s now in the southwest Jharkhand. On the map below you can see this latest flight and also Flappy’s current position, around 800km to the northwest.
18 September 2016
Skybomb has joined Flappy in India! Since arriving on the island of Magdhara, he has flown more than 500km west, crossing the border with India, and is now in western West Bengal. Less than 1,000km now separates Skybomb and Flappy, who is still around 200km east of New Delhi.
16 September 2016
Skybomb is in Bangladesh! He’s flown more than 1,000 kilometres from his previous position in southern Yunnan Province, China, and is now on the island of Magdhara off the southern coast. This rules out SE Asia as a wintering destination for Skybomb, one of the ‘bakeri‘ subspecies. But where will he go? India, Africa or somewhere else?
13 September 2016
Skybomb has been busy! After a few days of ‘radio silence’ he’s popped up in southern Yunnan Province in the very southwest of China, close to the borders with Vietnam and Laos. Is he following Flappy? Or is he heading to SE Asia? On the face of it, one might expect a more northerly trajectory if he was following Flappy. However, there are some very high mountains in northern Yunnan, so an arc that takes him through the southern part of the Province would make sense.. That said, maybe he is heading to SE Asia! The next move will be fascinating and will give us an indication of whether or not the bakeri and canorus races share the same wintering grounds.
9 September 2016
Skybomb continues his migration. He’s moved west-southwest from his most recent location in Hubei and is now in northwest Hunan Province. Will he follow a similar trajectory to Flappy?
30 August 2016
Skybomb Bolt moves again! Now in Hubei Province, heading south-southwest! Trajectory remains consistent with an African or SE Asian destination.. Place your bets!
28 August 2016
Skybomb Bolt has begun his migration! He has headed almost due south around 1,000km and is now in the Dabie Mountains of southern Henan! He is the first of the three males from Yeyahu to make a move. The track is consistent with a SE Asia or Africa destination (Amur Falcons follow a similar trajectory) so the jury is still out on his wintering location.
1 August 2016
Skybomb Bolt remains in the Hanshiqiao area. When will he begin his migration? With Flappy already on her way, we expect him to begin moving soon.. Watch this space!
Skybomb Bolt was the first male Beijing Cuckoo to be given a tag. He was caught at Hanshiqiao Wetland Park in the Shunyi District of Beijing and named by pupils at the nearby Dulwich International School.
As of 20 July, Skybomb Bolt is still in the Hanshiqiao area but we expect him to begin his southward migration very soon.