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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Precarious State of China's Birds

Chinese Crested Tern
Image Credit: Liao Pen-Hsing, Taipei Times

Below is a link and an exerpt on the state of birds in China. The article points out the need for habitat conservation and cultural changes that need to be implemented in China to save its birds.

The Loneliness of the Chinese Birdwatcher

China is not a good place to be a bird. I learnt this when I moved from Hong Kong, still a British colony, to Beijing. Though my home in Hong Kong was in the heart of the city, dense scrub tumbled down the slopes from the Peak. I was driven out of bed every morning by a raucous dawn chorus. The violet whistling thrush was among the first to start up, and the hwamei (“beautiful eyebrow”), with white eyestripe and rich territorial song. The koel, a tropical cuckoo that lurks in thick cover, has a rising bisyllabic wolf-whistle. The grey treepie, a corvid, was a late riser, but hoodlum gangs soon made up for it. Layered over the top of all this came the screeches of sulphur-crested cockatoos. These aerial zoomers were a feral flock. The oldest had short lengths of chain on their legs and were released in 1941 from the aviary at Flagstaff House as the Japanese army closed in.

In my hutong neighbourhood in Beijing, by contrast, the mornings were strangely silent. In 1958 Mao Zedong had declared war on songbirds, sparrows in particular: he claimed they consumed scarce grain. For three days and nights my neighbourhood, gripped like much of northern China by hysteria, had beaten pots and pans to keep birds on the move until they collapsed in exhaustion on the roofs and pavements of the courtyard houses. The consequence was a plague of locusts the next year that helped bring on a famine. “Suan le,” Mao had said when told that the anti-sparrow campaign was not working. “Forget it then.”

Read the full artile in the Economist

Friday, December 19, 2008

Birding Babylon

Birding Babylon - Jonathan Thouern-Trend

Birding Babylon - A Soldier's Journal from Iraq is a inspiring book! I picked up a copy on the recommendation of a fellow birder. The book quite short - only 80 pages. It is an edited selection of journal enteries by a soldier serving a tour of duty in Iraq with the 118th Area Support Medical Battalion.

The book is not so much about the military operations in Iraq as the title suggests. Rather, it contains the observations of a life long naturalist who somehow found a way to find hope and serenity amidst the violence of war. On one occasion, he discovered a Little Owl nesting in the shelter of a concrete bunker. He also speaks of birding in full battle gear the day following a rocket attack and finds centeredness in watching a Squacco Heron. Following a sandstorm, he finds calmness in watching two white-cheeked bulbuls chasing a moth.

Squacco Heron
Image Credit: Mike Lane

The following is a brief excerpt from the book's preface:

Most people's view of Iraq focuses on the chaos and violence of war. To read about something universally familiar as the migration of birds, or watching ducks in a pond, fufilled a need to know that something worthwhile or magical was happening, even in the midst of suicide bombings and rocket attacks...Knowing that the great cycles of nature continue despite what people happen to be doing is reassuring, I think. There is an order we can take comfort in and draw strength from.

I would definately recommend this book to anyone who needs some inspiration. It's a nice read for birders as well. You can get it at Amazon. I found it helpful to keep a field guide, Birds of the Middle East, within arms reach so that I could look up the birds the author encountered.

You can also check out more of the authors journal at his blog, Birding Babylon.