The Beijing Cuckoo Project: Class of 2017

It’s been an eventful ten days for the Beijing Cuckoo Project Team.  After the elation of Flappy’s and Meng’s return to the breeding grounds, following monumental journeys of 32,000 and 26,000km respectively, there was little time to take a breath before beginning phase two of the Beijing Cuckoo Project.  The plan for this year was based on two aims.  First, to increase the sample of tagged cuckoos from Beijing and NE China to strengthen the dataset which would enable scientists to make more informed conclusions about the migration of cuckoos from East Asia.  And second, to build on the public engagement to reach more people in China and overseas about the wonders of bird migration.

It’s fair to say that this year has been challenging.  Over the last ten days or so the Beijing Cuckoo Team has been valiantly navigating all manner of unfortunate incidents including Chinese visa issues, the British Airways IT shutdown, a major forest fire in Inner Mongolia (where we had hoped to tag some of the larger ‘canorus‘ cuckoos) and a hospital visit for one team member, Dick Newell (thankfully, not serious)..

Dick Newell being sewn up at the local hospital in Yanqing after cutting his head on a low doorway.

Despite this, three Common Cuckoos (two females and one male) were fitted with tags at Yeyahu in Beijing.  They are all of the bakeri subspecies and all were fitted with the tiny new 2g tags from Microwave Telemetry.

The Beijing birds have been given names and are already famous..

The first, a female, was named by the students from the International School of Beijing (ISB). Three students from ISB, along with two teachers, came to Yeyahu and witnessed the setting up of the nets, the capture, tagging and release of the bird.  After a vote at school last week involving the whole year, the bird has been named 玉琳 (Yu-Lin). This means “precious jade in the forest”.

玉琳 (YuLin), a female, was the first Beijing Cuckoo to be fitted with a tag in 2017.
Students from ISB helped put up the nets ahead of the catching operation

The release of Yu-Lin was filmed by Chinese national television (CCTV) as part of a documentary on Beijing’s wildlife. The CCTV crew also managed to secure some fantastic footage of 梦之鹃 (Meng Zhi Juan) calling close by..!

The documentary will be shown on national television later this year and we’ll publish a link as soon as the programme is available online.

The second cuckoo, a male, was named by staff at Yeyahu Wetland Reserve. The name given is 小松 (XiaoSong) which means “small pine tree”.

小松 (XiaoSong), a male, was named by staff at Yeyahu Wetland Reserve.
Yeyahu Wetland Reserve is a wonderful setting. When here, it’s hard to believe one is in Beijing.

The third cuckoo, another female, was named by the Beijing Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre after an online public vote. After thousands of votes from members of the public, the name chosen was 六月 (LiuYue) meaning “June”.

六月 (LiuYue), the third Beijing Cuckoo to be fitted with a tag in 2017.

Of course, being at Yeyahu, we were all hoping to catch a glimpse of 梦之鹃 (Meng Zhi Juan), one of the Beijing Cuckoos fitted with a tag in 2016.  After his marathon journey of more than 26,000km to Mozambique and back, Meng was photographed at Yeyahu on 20 May.  And, on 31st May, as we were catching the first Beijing Cuckoos of 2017, we were treated to several close encounters, including a magnificent fly-by just metres away in front of the students and teachers from ISB.

A wonderful moment: teacher Wayne Winkelman and students from ISB watch as Meng flies by.. Photo by Allison Wise.

It was wonderful to see and hear so many Cuckoos on the reserve and Meng looked fit and healthy as he interacted aggressively with other males and chased females in all directions.

Each of the three members of the Class of 2017 has its own webpage and their journeys will be added to the map on the dedicated Beijing Cuckoo Project webpage.

What will the next 12 months bring?  One thing is for sure – they will entertain, educate, surprise and inspire us…

Huge thanks to my fellow Beijing Cuckoo Project Team members, including Chris Hewson, Dick Newell, Lyndon Kearsley, Wu Lan and Robert and Robin Jolliffe.   The Beijing Cuckoo Project Team is extremely grateful to all the staff at Yeyahu Nature Reserve and the Beijing Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, especially Shi Yang, Wu Mengwei, Aodan Zhula, Zhang Yaqiong and Wang Bojun for their fantastic support and wonderful hospitality.

2017-06-01 Chris local transport
The BTO’s Chris Hewson enjoying the local transport.

 

The Famous Five: The Beijing Cuckoo Project Off To A Flyer!

I have just spent a week ‘in the field’ with “Team Cuckoo” and I am elated.  After five days of exhausting 0300 starts, we’ve fitted satellite tags to a total of five Beijing Cuckoos, two females and three males, caught at three different sites – Cuihu, Hanshiqiao and Yeyahu Nature Reserve.  All tags appear to be transmitting normally and we hope, very soon, to be able to receive data about their locations.  All being well, in a few months we will know, for the first time, the location of the wintering grounds of Beijing Cuckoos and the route they take to get there.  Exciting indeed!

2016-05-24 Fitting tag to 1st cuckoo, Cuihu
Chris Hewson and Lyndon Kearsley demonstrating how to fit a satellite tag to the first cuckoo at Cuihu
Tagged Cuckoo 1, Cuihu, 24 May 2016 close up
Cuckoo 1 (female) tagged at Cuihu
Tagged Cuckoo 2, Hanshiqiao, 25 May 2016 close up
Cuckoo 2 (male) tagged at Hanshiqiao.
Tagged Cuckoo 3, Yeyahu, 26 May 2016 close up
Cuckoo 3 (male) tagged at Yeyahu
Tagged Cuckoo 4, Yeyahu, 26 May 2016 close up
Cuckoo 4 (male) tagged at Yeyahu
Tagged Cuckoo 5, Yeyahu, 26 May 2016 close up
Cuckoo 5 (female) tagged at Yeyahu

Here is a short video giving a flavour of the last few days..

Next week we will begin the naming process with local schools who will follow the cuckoos’ progress and learn about their migration and habitat requirements as part of a special environmental curriculum.

Very soon we’ll have a website up and running that will enable the public to follow their progress, too.  Watch this space!  In the meantime, I have set up a dedicated page on the Birding Beijing website where regular updates will be posted in English.  See here.

The project is a partnership between the Beijing Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre (BWRRC), the China Birdwatching Society (CBWS), the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and Birding Beijing and kindly supported by the Zoological Society of London, the Oriental Bird Club and the British Birds Charitable Foundation.

It’s a project that has everything – scientific discovery, public engagement, enthusing young people, collaboration between organisations in China and Europe and cultural exchange.  I am hugely grateful to Chris Hewson from the BTO for travelling to Beijing to share his expertise and oversee the catching operation.  He is a superb ambassador for the BTO and for UK science in China.

Chris Hewson (BTO) and Shi Yang (BWRRC) sign agreement to cooperate with the Beijing Cuckoo Project, share the data and work on joint scientific papers.
Chris Hewson (BTO) and Shi Yang (BWRRC) sign an agreement at Beijing airport to cooperate with the Beijing Cuckoo Project, share the data and work on joint scientific papers.

We still need to raise funds to pay for the “satellite services” that will enable us to receive the data…  A dedicated JustGiving page has been set up to receive any donations.  All contributions, no matter how big or small, are very welcome!