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Bird experts survey Metog to better understand county's biodiversity

Blood samples taken in unspoiled Xizang could unlock details surrounding future discoveries of new and unique species in the area

By CHEN LIANG in Metog, Xizang | China Daily | Updated: 2024-04-22 08:02
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Roadside lookouts

Arriving in Metog on March 12, Que joined the three surveyors in the second unit for their fieldwork. To make it easier to find birds, he brought with him two thermal scopes.

While driving, Que would use one to scan forest canopies from the front seat, and Huang would use another to scan from the back.

Upon finding something that looked like a bird or a mammal, they would stop and search the canopy carefully.

Despite the help of the devices, the bird count was still quite tricky.

They did however encounter some bird waves — large numbers of birds gathering, flying together in harmony, and feeding in a mixed flock within the canopies- from time to time.

However, compared with other seasons, these bird waves were notably smaller and primarily composed of smaller birds such as warblers, tits, babblers and sunbirds.

Every day from early morning to late evening, the four drove along a different road, thus venturing into various parts of Metog. Thanks to the country's initiative to link every village with a paved road, they could traverse routes spanning over 30 to 40 km daily.

"With improved road access, we had the opportunity to explore several parts of Metog that I hadn't been able to visit during the past three surveys,"Que said.

Besides driving, they also chose a few sections of the road to walk while counting birds. The sections are referred to as "line transects" and are one of the basic methods used in bird surveying.

"We conducted more than 20 line transects during our two weeks in Metog," Que said.

After a long and uneventful day on March 18, Que and Huang spotted a male Sclater's monal pheasant, a turkey-sized bird known for its highly iridescent purplish-green plumage, feeding on a snow-covered patch of open ground in a forest of pine trees. The bird was spotted across a valley on a steep slope nearly 100 meters away from the two observers.

Exclusively found in the alpine zones of the east Himalayan region and under national first-class protection, it was a bird neither of them had ever seen before. Overwhelmed by the discovery, they spent a good 10 minutes admiring it.

"This is one of the targets I'd been hoping to find during the survey," Que said. "It's a small reward for our long and exhausting survey."

Despite managing to count more than 130 bird species during the survey, Que said, the list was considerably shorter compared to those recorded in the previous surveys.

Wetter and colder days, disruptions caused by road construction and the clearing of roadside thickets were probably the main reasons behind the lower bird count, he said.

"Next time, in another season and after the road construction is finished and the thickets return along the roads, the count might be quite different," Que said. "That's why we expect to find funding support to continue our work in the area in the future."

Chen advocates for the establishment of a permanent bird tagging station in Metog, highlighting its significance for ongoing avian research. According to him, bird tagging is one of the oldest but most important techniques used for studying and identifying individual birds.

"By engaging in year-round bird tagging and recapture efforts here, I'm sure we will achieve many more discoveries," he said.

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