A message from Баян (BAYAN) on International Biodiversity Day

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. 

BAYAN’s journey took him from Mongolia to Mozambique and back to China, crossing 31 borders involving 18 countries and a total distance of c24,000km.  Outward journey from Mongolia to Mozambique in yellow, return in orange. Block dot shows location of last signals, 100km north of Kunming, Yunnan Province on 12 May 2020.

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:

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?

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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)

Total distance: c24,000km

Rest In Peace Баян (BAYAN) 🙏

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Mongolian Cuckoos Cross The Arabian Sea, Enchanting A Nation

Thanks to modern technology, we are beginning to unlock the secrets of our migratory birds.  And, although removing some of the mystery, gaining knowledge of these journeys in no way diminishes our awe at what these birds achieve in terms of endurance and navigation.  Every year, a new generation of birds following in their predecessors wing-flaps, inspires a new group of people. 

When it all began in June 2019, one of the aims of the Mongolian Cuckoo Project was to engage the public about migratory birds and the places they need.  Knowledge and experience are the first steps towards falling in love with nature and, as Baba Dioum, the Senegalese conservationist famously said: 

“In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand and we will understand only what we are taught.”  

Thus, connecting more people to nature is crucial if conservationists are to build support for more, and better, protection of species and the wild places they need.  With biodiversity in crisis (according to The Living Planet Index, compiled by several leading wildlife science organisations, the populations of vertebrates have fallen, on average, by around 60% since 1970), there can be no more important task.

That is why the engagement inspired by ONON and BAYAN, two Common Cuckoos fitted with transmitters in Mongolia in June 2019, has been so up-lifting.  Over the last seven days these cuckoos, named by schoolchildren in northern Mongolia, have crossed the Arabian Sea from Africa (Kenya and Somalia, respectively).  As I write, ONON is in Bangladesh and BAYAN just 30km northwest of Kolkata in West Bengal, India.  That means that, since 29 April, ONON has flown >6,300km, and BAYAN >5,800km in just under seven days.

Tracks show data from 29 April to 6 May 2020. ONON in red and BAYAN in green.
As of late on 6 May 2020, ONON was in Rajshahi Division, Bangladesh and BAYAN just northwest of Kolkata in West Bengal, India.

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, each step of the journey has been published in near real time, allowing followers to track the progress of the birds as they headed out over the open ocean towards India.  And, as they did so, interest in India soared…  With huge thanks to Parveen Kaswan of the Indian Forest Service, ONON and BAYAN now have thousands of new followers in India.  Parveen has more than 130,000 followers on Twitter and, when he sent out a message about ONON making landfall in India, interest exploded.  

Many people were stunned that a cuckoo could make such a flight and asked questions, which I did my best to answer!  See the end of this post for a selection.  Parveen’s tweet also inspired an article in the Bangla version of the Indian Times, under the title “Migrants from Kenya to Madhya Pradesh in a Week”.

One follower, Rajesh Ghotikar, who lives close to Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh, even went out to check on ONON’s location, taking precautions and respecting local rules on mask wearing and social distancing as he did so.

I’ve been so impressed by the interest and, most of all, by the warmth, politeness and friendly nature of the Indian people who have engaged with these birds.  It is moments like this that make the project so worthwhile.  Having never had the pleasure to visit the country, I am beginning to see why it is known as Incredible India.

Once again, huge thanks to the Mongolian Cuckoo Project team, especially Nyambayar Batbayar, Tuvshinjargal Erdenechimeg, Batmunkh Davaasuren, to Chris Hewson from BTO and to Dick Newell and Lyndon Kearsley.  And big thanks, too, to the Oriental Bird Club for generously sponsoring the project.

You can follow the exploits of ONON and BAYAN as they continue their journeys to Mongolia on Twitter (@birdingbeijing) or at this dedicated webpage.

Title image: map showing the positions of ONON (red) and BAYAN (green) over the last seven days. As of 7 May 2020, ONON is in Bangladesh and BAYAN is in West Bengal, India.

A selection of reactions from India on social media to ONON’s and BAYAN’s astonishing journeys:

Where is NOMAD going? Poll results

Earlier this month we began a poll to see where readers think NOMAD, the first Oriental Cuckoo (Cuculus optatus) to be tracked, would spend the northern winter. The poll closed on 10 September and here are the results:

Indonesia/Malaysia – 39%

Africa – 27%

Australia – 13%

India – 8 %

New Zealand – 5%

Other – 8%

Perhaps not surprisingly, SE Asia is the most popular suggestion. However, with one specimen from Zambia (per Handbook of the Birds of the World), and eBird records from Australia and New Zealand, there remains a large element of mystery about where NOMAD will go.

Having spent the breeding season on the Central Siberian Plateau, NOMAD is now well on his way south and is currently in China’s Shanxi Province.

The migration tracks of the Mongolian Cuckoos. NOMAD’s migration is represented by the dark blue line. Zoom into the map using + and – to see more detail.

NOMAD’s migration so far isn’t giving much away but if he remains healthy for the next month or so, we should finally discover his destination. You can follow the progress of NOMAD, and all of the cuckoos tagged in Mongolia, by regularly visiting this dedicated page or the map on the BTO’s website. For Twitter users, follow @BirdingBeijing for near real-time updates of significant moves.

Thank you to everyone who voted and, if you enjoy following this project, please do consider a donation via JustGiving towards the cost of the satellite time which, at this time, remains unfunded. Thank you!

Where is NOMAD going?

Back in June, in partnership with the Wildlife Science and Conservation Center in Mongolia and BTO and kindly supported by the Oriental Bird Club and Dick Newell, ‘Team Cuckoo’ visited Khurkh ringing station to catch and fit tags to five cuckoos as part of the Mongolian Cuckoo Project. Incredibly, the first cuckoo to be caught was an Oriental Cuckoo and the BTO’s Chris Hewson duly fitted a tag. As fas as we know, this is the first ever Oriental Cuckoo to be tracked.

After spending the summer on the Central Siberian Plateau in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, NOMAD – as he was called by local schoolchildren – is now well on his way south. As of 3rd September 2019 he has re-crossed the Russia-Mongolia border and is now just 80km north of Ulaanbaatar.

Assuming he stays healthy, the next few weeks and months will reveal, for the first time, the wintering grounds and migration route of Oriental Cuckoo.

So, just for fun.. it’s time to place your bets!

Where is NOMAD going?

The poll will be open until Tuesday 10 September, after which the results will be revealed. Thank you for voting!

Mongolian Cuckoos on the move

Back in early June, five cuckoos were fitted with tags at Khurkh Ringing Station in Mongolia. The first one fitted with a tag was an Oriental Cuckoo (Cuculus optatus), believed to be the first ever individual of this species to be tracked. The other four were Common Cuckoos (Cuculus canorus). All five were given names by schoolchildren in the local community and in Ulan Bataar.

The next six weeks were fairly quiet for the four Common Cuckoos, all of which remained in the vicinity of Khurkh. However, the Oriental Cuckoo (named NOMAD) was clearly still on migration when he was caught in early June and continued north to breeding grounds on the central Siberian plane.

Now, into August, the cuckoos are already on the move. NOMAD, after only four weeks on his breeding grounds in central Siberia, has begun to move south and is currently close to the border of Irkutsk Province in Russia. Three of the four Common Cuckoos (NAMJAA, ONON and Captain KHURKH) have also begun their journey south with only BAYAN remaining in the vicinity of Khurkh. After being tagged within a few kilometres of each other, more than 2,800km now separates the five birds.

After being tagged within a few kilometres of each other in June, more than 2,800km separates NOMAD and NAMJAA in early August.

Over the next few weeks and months, following their progress is sure to be a roller-coaster ride. We expect the four Common Cuckoos to head into south Asia before crossing the Arabian Sea to Africa. However, the migration route and wintering grounds of NOMAD, the Oriental Cuckoo, will be new to science. From sight records we believe NOMAD’s most likely destination is southeast Asia or possibly Australia. However, nobody knows for sure, and one thing is for certain.. there will be some surprises along the way!

The schoolchildren in Mongolia are excited to follow ‘their’ birds and already the project has reached many who wouldn’t ordinarily take an interest in migratory birds.

Local schoolchildren gave names to the cuckoos and will be following them as they flee the cold of the Mongolian winter until their return the following spring.

You, too, can follow the progress of NOMAD, Captain KHURKH (will he boldly go where no cuckoo has gone before?), NAMJAA, ONON and BAYAN at the dedicated Mongolian Cuckoo Project page or via the BTO’s international projects page and on Twitter @BirdingBeijing or WeChat “BirdingBeijing”.

If you enjoy following these birds, please consider making a donation, no matter how small, to the JustGiving site towards the ongoing satellite fees. All contributions will go directly to BTO and 100% of the funds will go towards the cost of the satellite fees only.

Big thanks to the project partners, the Mongolian Wildlife Science and Conservation Center (WSCC), the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and to the Oriental Bird Club (OBC) and Mr Dick Newell for their financial support.

Thanks also to you, the reader, for following the Mongolian Cuckoos. Isn’t migration amazing?