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Sichuan Birding

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Old Tuesday 20th October 2009, 06:12   #51
MKinHK
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Hi Gretchen

Plain Laughingthrush is a hillside/scrubland bird. I seem to remember seeing it at Shanhaiguan back in 1990, when I climbed up to watch for raptor passage.

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Old Wednesday 21st October 2009, 09:57   #52
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Hi Gretchen

Plain Laughingthrush is a hillside/scrubland bird. I seem to remember seeing it at Shanhaiguan back in 1990, when I climbed up to watch for raptor passage.

Cheers
Mike
Yep still there Mike/Gretchen, best area seems to be the small valley and the ornamental gardens at the bottom behind the stalls selling tourist tat. They've been nesting in this area for the last few years. The area to the right above the top of the chairlift is also very good, where you can visit the original wall. They do occasionally pop up in Beidaihe and I would think, in a hard winter they'll move to lower levels and could turn up anywhere, bit like the Chinese Hill Warbler in the central reservation at sandflats bridge this year, madness!

Gretchen, there is a fairly large group of Greater-necklaced Laughingthrush that hang around in the valley next to the aviary on Lotus Hills. Nobody knows where they came from, they haven't escaped from the aviary but evidently attracted by all the noise and food have settled well. I think they must be now breeding as the numbers have increased steadily in the last few years. We don't count them but they are always entertaining to see.

Additionally, there is a group of Masked laughingthrush around Beidaihe, often seen in the more vegetated areas of the Dongshan and Friendship Hotels.

Sichuan however would take some beating!
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Old Thursday 22nd October 2009, 00:41   #53
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Thanks Mark and Mike! I do stand a much better chance if looking in the right place! My husband and I have been remarking how long its been since we've been to Jiao Shan (Corner Mountain) - at the Great Wall close to Shanhaiguan (I assume that's where you meant Mark), but a friend just went and so we have a bit more idea about what things are like there now.

Also very interesting to hear about the Greater Necklaced and Masked LTs as well. I've heard some interesting sounds from the area of the aviary, I'll have to check out if that was the laughing thrushes' call. I don't know Mark if you saw the aviary in its heyday, but it seems quite possible to me that they might have had laughing thrushes there - though I only have vague recollections of what was there, with me knowing little about birds and them having few labels. Anyway, lots of good info - thanks.

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bit like the Chinese Hill Warbler in the central reservation at sandflats bridge this year, madness!
Was this on the spring trip? What is the central reservation?

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Sichuan however would take some beating!
I'm sure that's true! "Jia you" (keep it up) Sid and Meggie!
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Old Thursday 22nd October 2009, 09:14   #54
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Thanks Mark and Mike! I do stand a much better chance if looking in the right place! My husband and I have been remarking how long its been since we've been to Jiao Shan (Corner Mountain) - at the Great Wall close to Shanhaiguan (I assume that's where you meant Mark), but a friend just went and so we have a bit more idea about what things are like there now.

Also very interesting to hear about the Greater Necklaced and Masked LTs as well. I've heard some interesting sounds from the area of the aviary, I'll have to check out if that was the laughing thrushes' call. I don't know Mark if you saw the aviary in its heyday, but it seems quite possible to me that they might have had laughing thrushes there - though I only have vague recollections of what was there, with me knowing little about birds and them having few labels. Anyway, lots of good info - thanks.



Was this on the spring trip? What is the central reservation?



I'm sure that's true! "Jia you" (keep it up) Sid and Meggie!
The central reservation is the bit between the crash barriers on the main road, you know, its about three meters wide with plastic flowers

Apparently, the owner of the aviary had never had the Laughingthrush and in the decade or so I've been going, I'd never seen them there... who knows.

At Old Peak, the Monks have released lots of Silver and Arctic Fox hybrids because they thought it'd be good for tourists. They reckon that they won't hunt as they are still hand fed. Don't seem to be many pheasants up there anymore, hardly surprising! Strange things happen in China
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Old Thursday 22nd October 2009, 13:41   #55
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At Old Peak, the Monks have released lots of Silver and Arctic Fox hybrids because they thought it'd be good for tourists. They reckon that they won't hunt as they are still hand fed. Don't seem to be many pheasants up there anymore, hardly surprising! Strange things happen in China
Release has become a problem in China. The Buddhist release everything they can buy. I ever saw released parrot in our garden. The strangest thing is after a Buddhist released some fish, you may see many fishers soon.
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Old Friday 23rd October 2009, 16:35   #56
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Just been having a few hectic days getting all sorts of stuff done - which included a day at Bi Feng Xia Panda Center (near Ya'an - about 160 km west of Chengdu) - where, as we've already shown, the birding can be interesting.

Marmot - we hope you're feeling better - we also nearly had a hospital visit - Meggie slipped over in a hotel shower and came out looking like she'd gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson. However all the damage was superficial - and luckily it all worked out fine

Quote:
Release has become a problem in China. The Buddhist release everything they can buy. I ever saw released parrot in our garden. The strangest thing is after a Buddhist released some fish, you may see many fishers soon.
I've seen that with the fish - in the river just by our apartment - one lot of folk putting them in another lot catching them up again for the dinner table!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
At Bi Feng Xia - there's been a Grey Laughingthrush reported on the Chinese forums. Normally this is a bird for the very south of Sichuan - so I'm wondering if this is single bird whether this can also be a release - or an escape from the zoo that also lies in the gorge. In the posts there's no mention to how many birds there are - during our last two trips we haven't been able to find it or them!!!!!!!!!!

As for Plain Laughinthrush - that's another bird that's not very well captured in the MacK plates - but then again it's a difficult bird to illustrate, since on first sight it don't look the typical Laugher.
I've included a pic of one from our Plain Laugher hotspot - Northern Sichuan around Rou Er Gai and the JZ areas.

During this last trip again lots of Forktails - and a nice flock of Grey-headed Parrotbills. We always see this bird when we haven't got a camera handy - the most amazing sighting being in a built up area within Chengdu - a flock of about 30 were giving great views while they fed in a small park garden. But don't go expecting this as a regular Chengdu bird!!!!
Yesterday we actually got a pic of these Parrotbills - its pretty rubbish - but we finally nailed it onto a camera-card!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

That Parrotbill flock was flying about with Black-headed Sibia - but our guests were more interested in other stuff hanging from the trees. No that's not a Panda RIP pic - its just one of the center's captive animals taking a nap. It was actually pretty high up - at least 30ft - there are some good trees in the area.
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Old Sunday 25th October 2009, 13:01   #57
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As for Plain Laughingthrush - that's another bird that's not very well captured in the MacK plates - but then again it's a difficult bird to illustrate, since on first sight it don't look the typical Laugher.
I've included a pic of one from our Plain Laugher hotspot - Northern Sichuan around Rou Er Gai and the JZ areas.

... but our guests were more interested in other stuff hanging from the trees. No that's not a Panda RIP pic ...
Thanks, for the Plain LT picture. I have "upgraded" to Brazil, which looks to have a nicer illustration than MacK, but it does look a lot lighter in color than your pic -maybe local differences or just "optimal" lighting in the guide picture.

The panda picture is wonderful! Looks so relaxing, doesn't it?
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Old Monday 26th October 2009, 05:45   #58
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My experience with the Plain Laughingthrush is that you get to see it quite easily from the distance: a row of bushes or just an overgrown old fence on the wide grassland (e.g. Zoige/Ruoergai) and you can be sure that it will be there. But it is not so easy to get a closer view or even a good picture of it, as it is quite shy and hides promptly, if there is something coming closer.


This weekend I have been to Mt. Tiantai. This mountain still belongs to the Chengdu municipal area but closely borders Bifengxia of Ya'an. It was developed into a tourist attraction about 10 years ago and has gained major importance since the earthquake last year, when the other mountain sites near Chengdu were closed down or not accessible.

Although it was weekend - what means that there were a lot of screaming Chengdu tourists with their honking cars - it was possible to get to some nice places where I found some great birds:
Black-chinned Yuhina tamely showed up three times in big flocks with up to 50 birds. They took a bath in the waterfall! In the lower part I saw a small flock of Hwamei, jumping in-between abandoned tea plants. And, two Scaly-breasted Wren-babblers were this weekend’s highlight, as I didn't expect to find them so close to the Sichuan Basin.
However, this time I only could make out one little Forktail, one of the four Forktails you usually can find on Mt Tiantai (little, slaty-backed, spotted and white-crowned).

Unfortunately it was cloudy throughout and sometimes raining, so I haven't had the chance to make any good picture which I could post now.

There still is one bird I couldn’t identify yet. It seems to be everywhere at the moment - I also saw it last week on the rolling hills of the beginning Qionglai Mountain Range west of Chongzhou (belongs to Chengdu):
It is moving in bigger flocks high underneath the canopy, is quite noisy and flicks around nervously. I couldn't get a good glimpse of it right now: against the sky and with their quick moving. From what I could see so far, it just looked pretty much like Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher. But from call and behaviour that's hardly possible. Again, they were a little bit too big for Grey-cheeked Fulvettas. So I hope the next time I can get a half-decent picture of them in order to have something to post.
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Old Monday 26th October 2009, 13:22   #59
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Those Scaly-breasted Wren Babblers are nice birds - I've had them in Yanzi-valley at Moxi - in the good old days when there was no ticket and you could hike into the area with a tent!!!!!!!
If they're about, they seem to be easier to see than the "Three blind mice bird" - Pygmy Wren Babbler - but our only pic of a Wren Babbler is PWB.
Usually these birds will be able to call 10cm from your nose - neee nuhh nahh (a slow version of three blind mice - but sometimes only two notes sometimes adding a fourth) from a dark crevice - and you just can't find them. However on one lucky day we got one to really respond to playback - coming right out and challenging our machine. The only drawback was that this all took place on Wawu Mountain during a real bad peasouper fog - so taking pics was pretty difficult.
By the way - If Chesnut-headed Tesia has the sexiest bird legs so Wren Babblers have the the most luscious feet - take a look at those monster claws in the pic.

Tiantai is just round the corner from Bi Feng Xia - its a very nice place - and those Black-chinned Yuhina are great birds. My pic is a Sept. bird from the area.
Another bird we've seen a lot flying about in flocks at Tiantai is Mountain Bulbul - they're already starting to flock at Bi Feng Xia - the pic is again from Sept. at Bi Feng Xia.
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Old Wednesday 28th October 2009, 13:40   #60
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Interesting description of the pygmy wren babbler call (song?) - quite memorable!

Nice to see the Mountain Bulbul. Bulbuls are an entirely new family (since we have none in North America - oops correction: I see that red-whiskered are introduced into Florida), but I really am taken with the two species met - Red Whiskered and Light Vented. They seem so cheerful, and I love the chatty but melodic songs of the LVB who spend the whole winter here. Hoping to meet up with more of the family... perhaps these mountain ones at some point.
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Old Friday 30th October 2009, 06:20   #61
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Bulbuls are pretty cool birds - for a North European, like myself, a taste of the exotic. The Bulbuls we meet in our part of Sichuan are the Light-vented (now commonly called Chinese Bulbul), Brown-breasted, Black, Collared Finchbill, Sooty-headed (that is if you go right down to the south of the province), Red-whiskered (they're at Emei, but I have to admit I've never seen them in Sichuan) and of course Mountain. I've put up a better pic of Mountain - one we took in the spring. Again the MacK plate isn't that hot for the Sichuan birds - since our birds have a light chin which can can look like a salt and pepper beard when its puffed up. They also have jazzy red eyes - but that isn't too obvious in the field.

We've finally finished a batch of work that's kept us at home - and now were free to get out birding.
This morning I took a look in the fields around our apartment.
The winter is moving in - some of our winter vistors - Sand Martins, Daurian Redstarts and Plumbeous Water Redstarts have already turned up.
One of the more interesting winter birds, which has also arrived, is - House Sparrow. We first got to see these last winter - we have have quite a winter population that keeps to the long grasses and scrub on the river bank. I reckon the the ssp. must be bactrianus - there's a population of these birds up around the high grasslands of Ruo Er Gai.
Other birds photographed today were an Aberrant Bush Warbler - that was easily located through its characteristic soft Churrr type call - and Chestnut-eared Bunting about to scoff a rice grain.
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Old Friday 30th October 2009, 06:35   #62
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Really nice Picture of that Bulbul. I like this one with its beard. I also did some shots the past days, but the quality is worse. Light and camera only allow identification:

During the past three days I went to the ‘famous’ bird yard of the Sichuan University every morning. And I was quite lucky. The first day I already got a couple of birds which usually need a few days to spend in for example Aba Zhou (Ngawa) until you can find them: White-browed Bush-Robin, Orange-flanked Robin, White-tailed Robin and Chestnut-headed Tesia. Besides there were Blue whistling Thrush, Alstroem Warbler, Pallas’s Leaf warbler, Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, Fujian Niltava, Common Buzzard, Grey-cheeked Fulvetta and some more common birds.
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Old Friday 30th October 2009, 11:50   #63
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Yes, a great view of your Mountain Bulbul - it's quite nice to see such dramatic angle and plumage next to a more ordinary picture of one as well. The little aberrant seems a bit tousled - a youngster? or just a little scruffy - still a handsome bird, just this one looks like a character. I'm happy to see your Chestnut Eared Bunting too, as I supposedly saw one earlier this year, but didn't actually get much of a view - this one looks pretty clearly marked. Now House Sparrows ... okay, they're a rare for you, but still ... Of course they do look a little more natural there on the grasses than they look on our sidewalks in the States.

Jiujiu - very interesting to hear that at the right time there's good birding at the University there. I do see some birds of interest (to me at least) on our campus - but not a collection like yours.
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Old Sunday 1st November 2009, 13:04   #64
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Never thought I'd get excited about House Sparrow, but with bactrianus as a subspecies name and a terrific atmospheric photo . . . it seems anything is possible!

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Old Sunday 1st November 2009, 14:33   #65
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Of course there's a secret to identifying bactrianus from plain old domesticus domesticus - you count the humps!!!!!
But for the life of me I can't remember which should have one and which should have two!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Actually those sparrows look a lot different to Anything we call House Sparrow back home.
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Old Sunday 1st November 2009, 23:22   #66
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Actually those sparrows look a lot different to Anything we call House Sparrow back home.
Ok, apart from the two humps, what are the relevant features? I can't see too much yet from the male on the grass - except perhaps a larger white cheek patch? (I'm not sure if our NA ones are the same as you have in Europe or not, either, should be?) I see there are no pics in OBC of the bactrianus....

It's interesting to hear these guys are pushing west - and I guess you are pretty far west of their traditional location (Afghanistan/Turkestan, via Wikipedia). Wonder how they get over the mountains....
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Old Monday 2nd November 2009, 03:39   #67
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Hi Gretchen, here's about the best photo we've got of them - the first obvious point is they're much cleaner than the house sparrows we have back home in the UK - all the markings are far clearer - from the grey crown down to the finer patterning on the backs. And yes those cheeks appear whiter - and the black of the breast is different - more of it and bolder.
Habits and habitat choice are also special - these birds stick to grassy patches of scrub - we nearly always see them in long grasses on river banks. Unlike back-home,they don't associate themselves with buildings and human activity - Tree-sparrows hold that niche down here.

As for spread - well this bird could just be an over-looked locally occurring winter species down here - we never see birders at any of the places we find this bird.

The closest Sichuan breeding population is, very roughly, about 500km to the NW of us on the high grassland around Hongya - but then again there could well be other breeding places we know nothing about. Whether this really is the wonderfully named bactrianus is also speculation that's built on the theory that this is the sub-species found in Qinghai and we assume the same ssp will breed on the northern grasslands of Sichuan.
There are also birds to the west of us in Tibet - but apparently they winter in Northern India.

All in all this bird could have a good future in Sichuan - it's not likely to sing if put in a cage, doesn't carry too much meat, not known for any medicinal values, Can't be trained to say the Chinese equivalent of "pretty polly" - and although we recognise its beauty - well it ain't going to be top seller in the bird market!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ohh and i forgot - the bills on these birds have a different lighter coloring
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Old Monday 2nd November 2009, 07:44   #68
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It's interesting to hear these guys are pushing west - and I guess you are pretty far west of their traditional location (Afghanistan/Turkestan, via Wikipedia). Wonder how they get over the mountains....
They are migrating from Central Asia over the Pamir mountains to Pakistan and north India, so they won't have any problems getting over any mountains

André

PS: And thanks for the picture, china guy. I used it for the Opus article. I'm pretty sure that bacterianus (together with indicus) will be split in the future as Indian Sparrow. They both occur in Central Asia where they have different habitats and bacterianus is a migrant. So it seems that they are genetically isolated.
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Old Monday 2nd November 2009, 11:52   #69
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They are migrating from Central Asia over the Pamir mountains to Pakistan and north India, so they won't have any problems getting over any mountains
Well, the Himalayas are pretty significant. Still though they have been a pretty strong barrier for people movement, I guess birds are more mobile. Are a lot of central Asian and east Asian birds the same? In the MacK maps, a lot of birds ranges are pictured as ending at the Himalayas, but I don't know if that is accurate. Or perhaps these birds come in from the north (and thus would be found in Xinjiang too?) ? (I know my geography about that area is not great...)

Sid - thanks for the description and pic. I can see the grey crown and large black bib, and I should have seen the lighter beak, even on your first picture I need to be more observant of even the "common" birds...

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Old Tuesday 3rd November 2009, 14:03   #70
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I've just checked Cheng and discovered that bactrianus is the race I saw in Xinjiang a few years ago. I don't remember them looking as good as this, more typical "Garbage Weaver" settings - rooting about in the dirt near a roadside restaurant and a filling station.

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Old Wednesday 4th November 2009, 02:18   #71
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Here's an excellent site with some fantastic pics of bactrianus - from Kazakhstan. They actually label this bird as Indian Sparrow.
http://www.birds.kz/Passer%20indicus/indexe.html

All the adult males are pictured with dark bills - and there's no mention of bills lightening to a straw colour during non-breeding - otherwise the bird matches up well to my birds - and the descriptions of not living directly within human habitation also fits.

In Mack they mention another ssp. - partini - but since there doesn't seem to any web leads to this race partini could well be a typo - and mean - parkini a race that's far more documented, and also occurs quite close to our region.

Mack says there is a population of Partini (Parkini) in SW Tibet - so there's also a possibility that may bird could be this ssp, although it seems strange that the birds from this area would migrate in winter in NE direction to Sichuan ( but of course partini may occur in areas closer). In the description of this race Mack talks about the straw coloured bills of non-breeding males.
To make things more confusing if you check through OBC images you see lots of pics Indian birds - with two images of near identical birds with light bills - one marked parkini one marked indicus both taken in exactly the same place - during the winter at Kutch in N India - but maybe the lighter non-breeding bill is one of the field marks of partini.
http://orientalbirdimages.org/search...Family_ID=&p=2
I'm afraid there doesn't seem to be such authoritative images of the parkini race - as the KZ pics of bactrianus.

Parkini or bactrainus - our birds certainly ain't your normal - London Sparrow domesticus. Which makes me think that the bird Mike saw Xinjiang could well have been our good old garbage weavers - domesticus. This race should occur in neighboring Mongolia and Kazakhstan - and so maybe also in Xinjiang - after all it ain't a big tick with most birders so nobody really looks into the races or bothers to note them down.

The other thing is that in my pic - of a few posts back - I think all the birds are of the same race - and that the bird with greyer cheeks is a juv.

Great to see this thread breaking new grounds in science of House/Indian Sparrow distribution in China - far more interesting than all those boring Pheasants, Laughingthrushes, Parrotbills etc etc - we usually gabble on about
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Old Wednesday 4th November 2009, 02:46   #72
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Here's a follow-up to that last post - after rooting around on that KZ page - I found they also had a domesticus domesticus page - with pictures of nicely marked light billed males - that don't look a 1000 miles different to our birds!!!!!!!!!!!!
http://www.birds.kz/Passer%20domesticus/indexe.html
However characteristic points for this race (maybe species if Indian becomes a split) - is that they stick to human habitation and apparently only make local migrations.
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Old Wednesday 4th November 2009, 23:08   #73
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Originally Posted by china guy View Post
Great to see this thread breaking new grounds in science of House/Indian Sparrow distribution in China - far more interesting than all those boring Pheasants, Laughingthrushes, Parrotbills etc etc - we usually gabble on about

So we should try to gather together to form the Far -Eastern House Sparrow research group

It does seem like lack of interest from the assumption that all house sparrows are the same, certainly by me, and therefore lack of clear guidelines may have resulted in some not so careful identifications. I looked through the OBC a fair amount the other day, seeing the parkini and indicus (sp???) as well as unlabeled and domesticus. I wasn't looking at bill color as an obvious difference at the time.

By the way, Brazil only mentions domesticus - but he's not really looking at the west, just mentions them in Siberia and Japan.

Can races be decided on habitat? (Though I look at the taxonomy forum occasionally - I still don't understand much.)

PS Mike - what's Cheng?

Last edited by Gretchen : Wednesday 4th November 2009 at 23:09. Reason: additional question
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Old Thursday 5th November 2009, 00:57   #74
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I'm afraid I'm a traitor to the cause of Sparrow research - today we're heading off in the direction of Lao jun Shan - Sichuan Hill Partridge country - but you never know some unknown ssp. of Passer domesticus could be lurking in the bamboo (I don't think ).

As for splitting - without DNA evidence - it goes on size and plumage difference, call differences, habit and habitat differences - and a really good paper that gets accepted by the powers who write books and make up check-lists.
OBC seem pretty hard on splits - on their checklist they don't accept some of the splits that are found on others. The most liberal checklists of course come from the birding tour operators - more ticks for your money. They may jump at the chance of being able to make two species out of House Sparrow and Indian Sparrow.
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Old Thursday 5th November 2009, 22:45   #75
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Cheng is a mis-speling of Zheng - Zheng Zuo xin was the grandfather of Chinese ornithology who wrote a book called the Economic Significance of Birds, which persuaded Mao's governemnt to stop killing birds in the four pests campaign.

He is also important for writing "A Synopsis of the Avifauna of China" which is the gigantic foundational work on distribution and taxonomy of all China's birds. He gives distribution of races as well as species.

Well worthwhile obtaining but its a pretty big book

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