I got back from a trip to Central China with Mark Beaman.
Some general points. The status of Reeves's Pheasant, Syrmaticus reevesii,
should be raised from the Vulnerable in Birds to Watch 2 to at least
Endangered and probably critical. An article by Ben King describing
sightings of the pheasant in 1987 described the Tuoda Forest Farm in Guizhou
as having "all the larger trees removed". On an earlier visit four year ago,
Mark Beaman said that about 5 per cent of the medium trees remained. On our
visit in mid November, not one single medium tree remains in the reserve.
All that is left are saplings of oak and pine, no more than about 8 feet
tall. The reserve showed many freshly cut stumps of medium trees, some of
which appeared to have been felled within the previous two months. Mark
found 10 to 12 pheasants fairly easily in a morning on his earlier visit.
We scoured the reserve for several days and found none. Eventually, we
formed a line and beat through the undergrowth. This flushed two males and
one female, which were seen by a couple of lucky members of the group. (I
saw the two males flying.) It looks like the pheasant can hang on, even
with the original tree cover destroyed. A Chinese local claimed that he had
seen up to ten pheasants, although how much confidence one can give to such
statements in highly uncertain. Even more worrying was the evidence of the
rapid conversion of parts of the Forest to agriculture, and this will spell
certain local extinction. Another forest south-west of Weining, where
Professor Fang of the Guizhou Normal University had found the pheasants ten
years earlier, has been totally destroyed.
Some other highlights. Six sightings of Swinhoe's Rail, Coturnicops
exquisitus, including a bird in the hand. One at Yangcheng, and another 5 at
Lake Poyang. Two Relict Gulls, Larus relictus, at the mouth of the river at
Yangcheng, including a first winter bird whose markings were very easy to
pick up. 95% of the estimated world population of Siberian Cranes, Grus
leucogeranus, some 960 birds in view at once at Lake Poyang. We counted a
maximum of 360 Black-necked Crane at Cao Hai near Weining. Mark estimates
that about a quarter of the world population winters there, which would
suggest a total population of less than 1500 for the world.
Another interesting sighting at Lake Poyang were 15 Lesser White-fronted
Geese, Anser erythropus, including one party of 11, at Lake Poyang, among
thousands of Greater White-fronts, A.albifrons. This is another bird,
according to Mark Beaman, that should be raised from Vulnerable as in Birds
to Watch 2, to Endangered. Mark thinks that the world population may be
down to as little as 500 birds. There are certainly very few in China!
Another matter of concern is the Swan Goose, Anser cygnoides. Birds to
watch 2 talks of 50,000 birds wintering at Lake Poyang and 35,000 birds at
Yangcheng. We found no birds at Yangcheng, and counted only about 2,000 per
day at Lake Poyang, where I would be surprised if the total population is
more than 5,000 birds.
Overall, such a trip gives major cause for concern at the propoects of some
of the world's most endangered species.
Associate Professor John M. Penhallurick<>
Phone BH( 61 2) 6201 2346 AH (61 2) 62585428
FAX (61 2) 6258 0426
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University of Canberra,A.C.T.2601, AUSTRALIA
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"I'd rather be birding!"