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 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.