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Birding Wawushan, Sichuan – 10,000 Birds

Wawushan is a bizarre form of mountain – it’s nearly flat on the prime. In reality, it’s the world’s second-largest desk mountain with a most altitude of 3,522 meters. 

In some ways, birding Wawushan is a nightmare for a solitary and crowd-hating birder like me. It’s a Chinese language vacationer place – the crowds are usually not enormous by Chinese language requirements (there are most likely twenty instances as many vacationers at close by Emei Shan on the similar time), however there isn’t any manner of escaping them. An unnamed fowl information referred to as them “avoidless vacationers”, which sums it up somewhat properly. Most of them had introduced youngsters alongside as properly (most likely amongst my least favourite mammals), which have been pulled on gaudily coloured snowboarding sleds by their hapless mother and father, creating a relentless raucous noise.

Add to this that in the entire about 4 km walkway on prime of the mountain, there have been fixed loudspeaker messages warning of the risks of slipping on the icy path, and the primary (and second and third) impressions of Wawushan have been decidedly unfavorable.

Fortuitously, security gave the impression to be a precedence at Wawushan. So, for instance, there was ample warning of the hazard of snow.

Elsewhere, ongoing building solid some doubts about the way forward for the place.

A pity, as general the habitat appeared somewhat good (I’ve realized that to pose as an skilled birder, it helps to often touch upon presumed habitat high quality).


So, all this makes birding this place an sometimes lower than nice expertise. Nonetheless, it’s nonetheless value it, if just for the parrotbills, 4 of which I encountered right here inside just a few hours.

A number of normal phrases about parrotbills to meet my academic obligation in direction of you, the valued reader. The household has about 37 species, however that features a number of fulvettas – solely 21 of the species have “parrotbill” of their names (and albeit, the payments of fulvettas don’t seem like these of parrots in any respect).

Prior to now, when attempting to uncover the evolutionary relationship of parrotbills, Bearded Reedlings have been used as examine objects, as apparently this species is simpler to pay money for (supply). The drawback is that this isn’t a typical parrotbill in any respect – it’s a bit just like the outdated joke of trying to find your keys not the place you misplaced them, however the place there may be loads of gentle to facilitate the analysis.

The Wikipedia entry on parrotbills has a protracted part on their battle to keep away from being parasitized by cuckoos. One fascinating paper argues that opposite to what might sound logical, cuckoos don’t goal to put eggs particularly into the nests of these parrotbills whose egg shade and sample match their very own. The rationale contains the pace of the laying (too quick to test for shade matches) and the low variety of egg-laying makes an attempt (i.e., it’s uncommon {that a} feminine cuckoo decides to not deposit an egg, which must be frequent if egg matching was an necessary side). The paper concludes that “cuckoo egg laying, based mostly on the looks of their very own eggs, is maladaptive for host choice”. (I just like the phrase “maladaptive” and can attempt to sneak it into my on a regular basis dialog sooner or later – even when solely speaking to my cats. “Cease biting me, Wolfie – that is maladaptive habits!”).

So, 4 species of parrotbill right here, presumably additionally vocalizing, although this can’t be heard because of the loud noise of the plastic sleds grinding over ice and sand, and loud mother and father with their louder kids.

My favourite right here was the Fulvous Parrotbill, one of many smaller and extra colourful parrotbills. It was an incredible sight to have a flock of about 50 of them flying instantly towards me, although ultimately skillfully avoiding me to succeed in the opposite aspect of the highway, like a military of extremely subtle, quick, and colourful drones.

A paper on breeding of the species was really researched proper right here at Wawushan. Sadly, their general nesting success was solely 18%. The authors speculate that “human disturbance (i.e. vacationer climbing on paths near nest websites) may immediate nest desertion inflicting the low reproductive success of fulvous parrotbill within the reserve”.

My guess is that there have been far fewer vacationers in 2014, when the paper was researched, than in 2023 …

In keeping with the HBW, the Brown Parrotbill differs from the very related Three-toed Parrotbill “primarily in having darker crown, brow not noticeably paler, blacker supercilium (significantly behind eye), darker and hotter upperparts, warmer-looking wings, browner tail, darker-looking head aspect with extra contrasting pinkish-silver streaks or mottling, paler throat, greyer and paler underparts”. That’s the form of detailed description I personally discover extra complicated than useful, revealing my limitations as a birder. Extra memorably, and extra useful to me, Bella from Alpinebirding (my information at Wawushan) advised me that the Brown Parrotbill appears to be like extra aggressive to her.

Some Chinese language researchers discovered one (1) nest of a Brown Parrotbill at Gaoligongshan and wrote a paper on it. Environment friendly use of the restricted useful resource parrotbill nests, I assume.

The Three-toed Parrotbill is the one passerine with solely three toes, in line with the HBW.

Generally, at parrotbill household conventions, an uncle from this species shocks the chicks of different parrotbill species by exhibiting them his toes. By no means fails to startle them.

“See, solely three!”

As soon as they’ve recovered from their preliminary shock, the uncle explains to them that his Latin species identify paradoxus (“unusual, unimaginable, extraordinary”) might be additionally derived from this peculiarity.

The Nice Parrotbill not too long ago unsuccessfully petitioned to be renamed to Large Parrotbill, citing the panda instance as proof of the advantages of getting this identify. Nonetheless, it was identified to the fowl that the recognition of the Large Panda is predicated extra on its similarity to plush toys, its relative rarity, and its remarked incapability to steer a wholesome intercourse life than on its particular identify.

It’d extra sense to ask for its Latin species identify to be modified – “Conostoma aemodium” to me appears like an sickness or remedy for a digestion downside, although in actuality aemodium shouldn’t be a diarrhea remedy however means “of the Himalayas”. Nonetheless, I might perceive a fowl worrying concerning the affiliation.

In 1980, an American with no highschool diploma was 2.6 instances extra prone to be married inside his or her personal group than random matching would predict. By 2013, this ratio had elevated to 7.2 (supply). Paraphrasing from this supply, as a consequence of this stronger assortative mating on the backside of the academic distribution, extra kids are born into households the place each mother and father are negatively chosen when it comes to human capital, which can in flip end in elevated inequality. In Elliot’s Laughingthrush, assortative mating can also be noticed.

Certainly, constructive assortative mating, based mostly on culmen size, tarsus size, and physique mass, was discovered throughout breeding pairs.

Or in different phrases, “The wealthy get richer and the poor get poorer” (Shelley), or regardless of the equal of wealth is in avian phrases (you’ll be able to inform I’ve written about Elliot’s Laughingthrush earlier than and am working out of fascinating issues to say concerning the species).

Hemoglobin is a key molecule in transporting oxygen from the lungs to the person cells requiring it for his or her metabolism. Apparently (significantly for a chemist like me), there are variations inside the hemoglobin of the identical fowl species relying on whether or not the species lives at excessive or low altitudes. Particularly, Gray-crested Tits residing at excessive altitudes have been proven to have a extra environment friendly hemoglobin variant (supply).

At Wawushans 3500 meters of altitude, you higher use good hemoglobin.

The gorgeous pink eyes of the species are additionally value mentioning, I believe …

The one who got here up with the Latin species identify apparently did so after a protracted day of tedious work, thus missing any inspiration or specificity. This resulted in “dichrous“, or two-colored.

And naturally, there have been quite a few Rufous-vented Tits. Nonetheless, as the primary a part of the species identify makes it more durable to crack dangerous semi-pornographic jokes, I can’t additional touch upon this fowl on this put up.

That leaves the Gray-hooded Fulvetta, a fowl that to me appears to be like way more enticing than the identify or the eBird description (“small brown fowl with a bulbous grey head and staring white eyes”) suggests.

Truly, the HBW description is even much less interesting: “Small brownish, plain-headed and nondescript fulvetta”, once more main me to imagine that a number of the HBW contributors is perhaps happier switching to different jobs which can be much less targeted on birds.

Non-intuitively (a minimum of to me), the Gray-hooded Fulvetta can also be a member of the parrotbill household, the Paradoxornithidae. Not less than till the following reorganization of the avian household tree.

Whereas Large Pandas are celebrated in right now’s China, this was not at all times the case. In pre-communist China, Large Pandas have been thought of the aristocrats amongst Chinese language mammals. Predictably, that acquired them into hassle throughout the cultural revolution – they have been denounced as belonging to the “5 Black Classes” (although it was by no means precisely clarified to which of the 5 undesirable classes they belonged to – the landlords, wealthy farmers, counter-revolutionaries, dangerous influencers or right-wingers). Many Large Pandas have been despatched to the countryside for reeducation. And for a lot of of them, it worked- they rehabilitated themselves, tailored, and gave up a few of their grandiose postures and lazy way of life in addition to their aristocratic black-and-white look. To point and acknowledge these modifications, these pandas have been henceforth given the honorary new identify “Pink Panda”.

After all, now that China has modified and Large Pandas are again in vogue and even celebrated, some Pink Pandas remorse their transformation. They now have to seek out their very own meals whereas many Large Pandas lead an opulent life, being fed fastidiously chosen bamboo and watching panda porn all day.

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