Asian ibis on the Edge

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Giant Ibis (c) James Eaton / BirdtourAsia

An assessment by scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Yale University of bird species worldwide has helped produce a list of the top 100 most Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (Edge) species.

Top of the list is the rare and striking Giant Ibis, which today can most easily be found in northern Cambodia. Approximately 230 pairs remain in the wild, many of them protected by local campaigns run through the Sam Veasna Centre and BirdLife Cambodia. Chief threats to the ibis are habitat loss, human disturbance and hunting.

New bird family from the eastern Himalayas

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The Spotted Elachura Elachura formosa, newly elevated to single-family status. (c) James Eaton / BirdtourASIA

DNA molecular analysis has revealed that the Spotted Wren-babbler is a unique species, unrelated to wren-babblers and is best placed in its own family, the Elachuridae.

Henceforth the species will be called the Spotted Elachura Elachura formosa.

The discovery, by Professor Per Alström and co-workers, is published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

Molecular analysis of passerine families identified 10 separate evolutionary branches, one of which was unique to the Spotted Elachura, the only living representative of one of the earliest off-shoots within the passeriformes

The Spotted Elachura is extremely secretive and difficult to observe, usually staying hidden within dense tangled undergrowth in subtropical mountain forests.

The male’s high-pitched song doesn’t resemble any other continental Asian bird song. The close resemblance in appearance to wren-babbler species is thought due either to pure chance or convergent evolution.

BirdingASIA 20: a publication you can’t afford to miss

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Cover photo: Spangled Drongo Dicrurus hottentottus, Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary, West Bengal, January 2013 by Arabinda Debnath

OBC members should already have received BirdingASIA 20, the latest issue of the Club’s biannual publication, BirdingASIA.

As ever, the issue is packed with the latest information and ornithological sightings from the Oriental region. It includes articles on identifcation of ‘Black-eared’ and ‘Pariah’ Kites, right, and ringing sparrowhawks on migration,a whole suite of taxonomic changes to the region’s avifauna, right through to some stunning photo essays and an artilcle about the poorly-known Wood Snipe in Bhutan.

The full contents and sample articles from each issue are posted here on the OBC website, but it’s a publication you simply can’t afford to miss: so join OBC today and you will receive two issues of BirdingASIA every year, plus once a year, Forktail, the Club’s peer-reviewed journal publishing original ornithological research from the region.

Birding NE Tibet with Oriental Bird Club

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We aim to find spectacular birds like this Henderson’s Ground-jay. Photo (c) Richard Thomas

In 2014, there will be an exciting opportunity for OBC members to visit the Koko Nor, deserts, Roof of the World & SE Qinghai, 27 July – 17 Aug 2014.

[This draft 30 June 2013] By Jesper Hornskov * ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Situated in western China, rugged Qinghai province is the ideal place to see a mix of Central Asian specialities, Chinese / Tibetan endemics, and isolated populations of otherwise mostly Siberian species. In zoogeographic terms we will be visiting the Tibetan Plateau and the deep valleys of its eastern fringes, with the latter showing particularly strong affinities with the least accessible parts of neighbouring Sichuan, known for its avifaunally rich Panda reserves.

Unlike China’s ‘Tibet Autonomous Region’ (which could remain trapped in the current unrest- and-clampdown cycle for years to come), Qinghai – with scenery fully on par with the very best in parts of ‘geographical Tibet’ now administered by neighbouring provinces – offers excellent, reliable & (with comparatively less developed tourism) affordable access to Tibet’s array of unique birds, mammals & flora.

Drawing on unequalled birding experience in Qinghai (>45 comprehensive tours during 1995- 2013 in addition to six years’ residence in the province) the following itinerary incorporates several sites pioneered by your leader Jesper Hornskov as recently as in summer 2013. The present itinerary has been carefully planned and updated to take in as wide a range of habitats as possible, thus maximizing our chances of connecting with all target species. Improved infrastructure – mainly better roads, but also more frequent domestic flights – now allows us to incorporate into a three week tour the very best this part of Asia has to offer without compromising on the field hours: we have sufficient time to ensure that all specialities can be properly searched for, at a realistic pace. We shall be expecting to see around 220 species in Qinghai, with additional ones possible as we pass through Beijing.

Further details: OBC Qinghai itinerary 2014 (PDF, 350 KB)

Latest issue of BirdingASIA published

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Cover photo: the stunning Ludlow’s Fulvetta Alcippe ludlowi, East Arunachal, India, March 2012 by Chewang Bonpo

OBC members will soon receive or have already got their latest issue of the Club’s biannual publication, BirdingASIA.

As ever, the issue is packed with the latest information and ornithological sightings from the Oriental region. It includes articles on the exciting rediscovery of Sillem’s Mountain Finch in China (see news item below), all the latest taxonomic changes and updates proposed for Asian birds plus updates on conservation breeding efforts to conserve the Spoon-billed Sandpiper right through to notes about the nesting of the rarely seen Hoogerwerf’s Pheasant in Sumatra.

The full contents and sample articles from each issue are posted here on the OBC website, but it’s a publication you simply can’t afford to miss: so join OBC today and you will receive two issues of BirdingASIA every year, plus once a year, Forktail, the Club’s peer-reviewed journal publishing original ornithological research from the region.

Hiding in plain sight: Cambodian Tailorbird discovered within city limits of Phnom Penh

New Species: the previously undescribed Cambodian Tailorbird has been found in Cambodia’s urbanized capital Phnom Penh Photo (c) James Eaton / Birdtour Asia

A team of scientists with the Wildlife Conservation Society, BirdLife International, and other groups have discovered a new species of bird with distinct plumage and a loud call living not in some remote jungle, but in a capital city of 1.5 million people.

Called the Cambodian Tailorbird Orthotomus chaktomuk, the previously undescribed species was found in Cambodia’s urbanized capital Phnom Penh and several other locations just outside of the city including a construction site. It is one of only two bird species found solely in Cambodia. The other, the Cambodian Laughingthrush, is restricted to the remote Cardamom Mountains.

Scientists describe the new bird in a special online early-view issue of the Oriental Bird Club’s journal Forktail.

A new species of lowland tailorbird (Passeriformes: Cisticolidae: Orthotomus) from the Mekong floodplain of Cambodia (Forktail 29: 1-14) (PDF, 670 KB)

Authors include: Simon Mahood, Ashish John, Hong Chamnan, and Colin Poole of the Wildlife Conservation Society; Jonathan Eames of BirdLife International; Carl Oliveros and Robert Moyle of University of Kansas; Fred Sheldon of Louisiana State University; and Howie Nielsen of the Sam Veasna Centre.

The small grey bird with a rufous cap and black throat lives in dense, humid lowland scrub in Phnom Penh and other sites in the floodplain. Its scientific name ‘chaktomuk’ is an old Khmer word meaning four-faces, perfectly describing where the bird is found: the area centered in Phnom Penh where the Tonle Sap, Mekong and Bassac Rivers come together.

Only tiny fragments of floodplain scrub remain in Phnom Penh, but larger areas persist just outside the city limits where the Cambodian Tailorbird is abundant. The authors say that the bird’s habitat is declining and recommend that the species is classified as Near Threatened under the IUCN’s Red List. Agricultural and urban expansion could further affect the bird and its habitat. However, the bird occurs in Baray Bengal Florican Conservation Area, where WCS is working with local communities and the Forestry Administration to protect the Bengal Florican and other threatened birds.

This same dense habitat is what kept the bird hidden for so long. Lead author Simon Mahood of WCS began investigating the new species when co-author Ashish John, also of WCS, took photographs of what was first thought to be a similar, coastal species of tailorbird at a construction site on the edge of Phnom Penh. The bird in the photographs initially defied identification. Further investigation revealed that it was an entirely unknown species.

“The modern discovery of an un-described bird species within the limits of a large populous city – not to mention 30 minutes from my home – is extraordinary,” said Mahood.  “The discovery indicates that new species of birds may still be found in familiar and unexpected locations.”

The last two decades have seen a sharp increase in the number of new bird species emerging from Indochina, mostly due to exploration of remote areas.  Newly described birds include various babbler species from isolated mountains in Vietnam, the bizarre Bare-faced Bulbul from Lao PDR and the Mekong Wagtail, first described in 2001 by WCS and other partners.

Colin Poole, Director of WCS Singapore and a co-author of the Forktail study said, “This discovery is one of several from Indochina in recent years, underscoring the region’s global importance for bird conservation.”

Co-Author Jonathan C. Eames of BirdLife International said: “Most newly discovered bird species in recent years have proved to be threatened with extinction or of conservation concern, highlighting the crisis facing the planet’s biodiversity.”

Steve Zack, WCS Coordinator of Bird Conservation, said, “Asia contains a spectacular concentration of bird life, but is also under sharply increasing threats ranging from large scale development projects to illegal hunting.  Further work is needed to better understand the distribution and ecology of this exciting newly described species to determine its conservation needs.”

Video (c) Martin Kennewell / Birdtour Asia

Supplementary Online Material
Sonograms etc
Mahood_et_al_Tailorbird_SOM_May_2013.pdf

Videos

Mahood_Media_File_SOM1.mov
Mahood_Media_File_SOM2.mov
Mahood_Media_File_SOM3.mov

Recordings
Mahood_Media_File_SOM4.wav
Mahood_Media_File_SOM5.wav
Mahood_Media_File_SOM6.wav

Two new sites for Jankowski’s Bunting discovered

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Jankowski’s (Rufous-backed) Bunting, photographed at one of the newly discovered grassland sites. Photo (c) Terry Townshend

A survey in Inner Mongolia and Jilin Province, China, by a team from the Beijing Birdwatching Society in May 2013 has discovered two new sites for Jankowski’s Bunting, an Endangered species, holding at least 12 birds, plus more than 30 individuals were found at a single established site.

Terry Townshend, a British birdwatcher living in Beijing accompanied the team and talks about the discovery in his blog.

Sonadia Island declared IBA

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Sonadia Island in Bangladesh, a wintering site for Spoon-billed Sandpipers, has been recognised by BirdLife International as an Important Bird Area (IBA). Photo: © Richard Thomas

Sonadia Island in Bangladesh, where 10% of the known population of the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus spends the winter, has been recognised as Bangladesh’s 20th Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International.

“A series of recent surveys confirms that Bangladesh is still an extremely important wintering ground for Spoon-billed Sandpiper, and we identified Sonadia Island as the main wintering site in Bangladesh”, said Sayam U. Chowdhury, Principal Investigator of the Bangladesh Spoon-billed Sandpiper Conservation Project, a group of young conservationists who monitor the wader population, and work with local communities to raise awareness and reduce threats.

Sonadia Island also supports the globally Endangered Spotted Greenshank Tringa guttifer, and other threatened and Near Threatened birds such as Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris, Asian Dowitcher Limnodromus semipalmatus, Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata and Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa.

BirdLife Partners and others involved in the “Saving the Spoon-billed Sandpiper” project have been working at Sonadia since 2009, when hunting of waders on the mudflats was identified as a major threat to the fast-diminishing Spoon-billed Sandpiper population. Local hunters have now been trained and equipped for alternative, more secure and sustainable livelihoods. A very successful campaign has led to a better understanding of the importance of shorebird conservation in general, and a sense of pride and custodianship towards the Spoon-billed Sandpiper in particular.

”The work has gone extremely well, and we are trying to really deliver conservation through the local communities,” said Sayam Chowdhury.  “Through the provision of alternative livelihoods we have seen hunting reduced to almost zero.  Hunters are now working as fisherman, tailors and watermelon producers.  An awareness-raising event we held in December 2012 involved close to a thousand people, local government and non-governmental organisation representatives.”

Source: BirdLife Interenational media release, 22nd April 2013.

Read more about Sonadia Island and the thoughts of Rob Sheldon, the RSPB’s Head of International Species Recovery Team, who is visting the site currently on the RSPB Blog site.

OBC Annual General Meeting 2013

The Club’s 29th Annual General Meeting will be held in the Wilkinson Room, St John the
Evangelist Church, Hills Road, Cambridge, CB2 8RN, UK, on Saturday 16th November 2013 at 12 noon.

The venue is within 10 minutes walk of Cambridge railway station. A map of where to find us is here.

Programme
10:30   Doors open – hot drinks & cakes available
11:00   Opening remarks by the Chairman
11:15   Alfred Russel Wallace: talk by Brian Sykes
12:00   Annual General Meeting (only OBC members may vote at the AGM)
12:45   Lunch break  –  refreshments and sales
13:45  Blue Whale courtship and Sperm Whales ‘scrumming’: talk by Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne
14:00  Birds and Mysticism: a journey across Bhutan: talk by Ann & Andrew Duff
14:30  Spoonies get a head start  & Baer’s Pochard, the duck in the coalmine? talk by Debbie Pain
15:45  Break for refreshments & sales
16:00 More from 30 years a photographer in the Orient: talk by Tim Loseby
16:45  Prize draw and closing remarks by the Chairman
17.00  Meeting closes

The Agenda for 2013 and Accounts for 2012 and Minutes of the 28th AGM in October 2012.