Sunday, February 20, 2011

China: Sundaoping -A Village Morning

 Our ship eventually passed through the gigantic locks of the Three Gorges Dam, and berthed beside the little village of Sundaoping - our first stop along a bank of the Yangtze that really was a bank, as opposed to the floodwater limit of an artificial lake. After a string of hastily-erected "relocation cities" it was a relief to come to a village that looked like it had been lived in for generations. 

I disembarked for a bird walk in the village gardens, and passed a delightful, and surprisingly busy, hour climbing between the farmhouses, with their vegetable plots and clotheslines strung with long beans drying in the sun.

The village, in the early morning, was full of birds.  Here, a typical human commensal, a female Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros), sits on a wire near the river.

I foubd bulbuls of three species, particularly the very common Light-vented or Chinese Bulbul (Pycnonotus sinensis), one of the most abundant birds in many urban areas of China.

This is a Brown-breasted Bulbul (Pycnonotus xanthorrhous), a quiely attractive species.

Here is a more unusual bulbul, a new one for me: the Collared Finchbill (Spizixos semitorques).  There are only two finchbills; I had seen the other, the Crested Finchbill (S. canifrons), in northern Thailand in 2004.  Aside from their heavy-set beaks they appear to be quite typical bulbuls in actions and behaviour; what they do with their bills I cannot say.

I couldn't decide which of these photos of White-browed Laughingthrushes (Garrulax sannio) to omit!  This is a very attractive bird, full of personality, and much tamer and more comfortable with humans than some other laughingthrushes (I had even seen them in the middle of a large city park in Fengdu).

In the bushes around a village vegetable patch I found an active party of this delightful little bird. It is a Vinous-throated Parrotbill (Paradoxornis webbianus), a common bird through much of central China. Parrotbills, which are tit-like relatives of the babblers, include some remarkably large-billed birds (one of which you will meet in a later posting), but this one only carries a little nubbin of a beak (a major contributor, though, to its cuteness factor). 

I saw this species again several times in eastern China, but there the birds are considerably darker overall. These western birds look more like some of the closely-related species from further west, in the mountains of Sichuan, and I wonder if they really are only a subspecies of the birds I saw near Shanghai. Perhaps the taxonomy of this population needs looking at?

I was very surprised to get a close look at a Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) sitting on a post in the village - I usually think of this species as a bird one sees from a distance, if at all!
Finally, here is a non-bird: a magnificent swallowtail butterfly that I believe to be a Common mormon (Papilio polytes).  Proof that wildlife does persist in China (and that other tourists pausing at Sundaoping after passing through the Three Gorges could do worse than take an early morning stroll).

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