Beijing Swifts 2017

I spent Saturday morning with Belgium-based Lyndon Kearsley and the Beijing team at the Summer Palace for the annual Swift banding project.  Led by Professor Zhao Xinru of the China Birdwatching Society, in collaboration with scientists from the UK, including the BTO, Sweden and Belgium, the project has recently been responsible for discovering the Beijing Swift’s wintering grounds and migration route, proving for the first time that these incredible aviators travel to southern Africa and back every year.

This year, we are hoping to prove an even more incredible aspect of the Beijing Swift’s lifestyle.  In 2016 selected birds were fitted with a new type of technology – accelerometers – which can, in short, establish whether the birds are moving or stationary.  Having this morning recaptured seven birds fitted with accelerometers in 2016, and provided the data are good, we should be able to show whether these birds have spent the nine months away from Beijing in continuous flight, just as Susanne Åkesson and her team have recently proved with Swifts from Sweden.  Wouldn’t that be something?

The analysis of the data will take some weeks and months to complete, so we don’t expect to have an answer quickly.  In the meantime, here is a short video of the Beijing Swifts in slow motion, taken this morning at the Summer Palace.  One striking aspect is the sound of the calls when slowed down…  my advice is don’t play this video if alone at night or at Halloween – it’s almost creepy!

Huge credit to our Chinese colleagues, especially Professor Zhao Xinru, Wu Lan, Liu Yang and the army of volunteers who work so hard to make the project a success.  And big thanks to Dick Newell, Chris Hewson, Lyndon Kearsley, Susanne Åkesson, Rob Jolliffe, Geert De Smet and Gie Goris who have all played a key role in the Beijing Swift Project over the last few years.

 

 

The Beijing Swift Project 2016

On Saturday “Team Swift” undertook the next stage of the Beijing Swift Project at the Summer Palace, here in Beijing.  The Chinese “catching team”, led by Professor Zhao Xinru, was on site at the inhuman hour of 0230 to set up the nets and, by the time I arrived at 0400 with the Europeans, there were already a couple of birds waiting to be tagged.

Setting up the nets at 0230 at The Summer Palace.
Setting up the nets at 0230 at The Summer Palace.  All photos by Zhang Weimin.

This year was another hugely successful operation involving more than 60 people, all volunteers, organised into highly efficient teams by the China Birdwatching Society.  From Europe there was Chris Hewson (BTO), Dick Newell and Rob Jolliffe (Action For Swifts), Lyndon Kearsley, Geert De Smet and Gie Goris (Belgium) and Susanne Åkesson and Aron Hejdstrom from Lund University.

Ms Fu Jianping, President of the China Birdwatching Society retrieves a Swift from the net.
Ms Fu Jianping, President of the China Birdwatching Society retrieves a Swift from the net.
The "management" team, logging and distributing the Swifts to the various banding teams
The “management” team, logging and distributing the Swifts to the various banding teams
Susanne and her team of Chinese volunteers fitted an incredible 25 loggers to Swifts.
Susanne and her team of Chinese volunteers fitted an incredible 25 loggers to Swifts.
The BTO's Chris Hewson preparing the harnesses for the Swifts' "backpacks"
The BTO’s Chris Hewson preparing the harnesses for the Swifts’ “backpacks”
The "biometrics team" weighed and measured the Swifts.
The “biometrics team” weighed and measured the Swifts.
Professor Liu Yang oversaw the blood sampling, which will enable analysis of DNA.
Professor Liu Yang oversaw the blood sampling, which will enable analysis of DNA.
Wu Lan (left) led the "data downloading team", capturing the data from birds fitted with loggers in previous years.
Wu Lan (left) led the “data downloading team”, capturing the data from birds fitted with loggers in previous years.
2016-05-21 Swifts at summer palace ms fu
Fu Jianping releases a swift fitted with a data logger.
2016-05-21 Swifts at summer palace release2
It was brilliant to see so many young volunteers involved..
2016-05-21 Swifts at summer palace Dick release
Action For Swift’s Dick Newell, whose generosity enabled the project to get off the ground, releases one of the Swifts.
2016-05-21 Swifts at summer palace release4
A great moment. Leighton (right) was recently engaged to his partner and, together, they released two of the Swifts..

We succeeded in catching 10 birds with geolocators fitted in the previous 2 years. Nine of these had good data, six from birds tagged in 2015 and three from birds tagged in 2014.  Two of these we had caught in 2015, but one was a new bird carrying 2 years worth of data.  So we now have 23 complete tracks, 14 of the 2014/15 migration and 9 of the 2015/16 migration.

Preliminary analysis shows the birds doing similar things in the 2 migrations – ie migrating to and from southern Africa using a route north of the Himalayas.  It’s one of the most incredible migrations of any bird and to think they do it without landing is awe-inspiring…
A typical track of a Beijing Swift based on preliminary analysis of the data captured today.
A typical track of a Beijing Swift.
We also succeeded in fitting 46 new loggers of various types: GPS loggers, loggers with accelerometers and pressure sensors, as well as some more light level geolocators.  These should give us more valuable information in 2017.
Once again, it was a real privilege to be part of this incredible project… a project that is not only contributing to scientific discovery and facilitating superb collaboration between scientists and volunteers from China and Europe but also engaging the public about these amazing birds and their incredible migrations.
Huge thanks to Wu Lan for, again, being the spider at the centre of the web, to Dick, Lyndon, Chris, Rob, Geert, Gie, Susanne and Aron for their valuable contributions to this project and, most of all, to the many young Chinese volunteers who worked so well together to make this year’s catching such a success.