11 May 2008

Ianthocincla (Garrulax) bieti

Our main purpose for this trip was to meet Bjorn Anderson (from Beijing) in Muli, SW Sichuan, and toghether look for this laughingthrush in an area attractively called Mahuang Gou - "Leech Valley". Ben King had seen it in the area in 1989 and his account of the trip is in the 1988 (!) Hong Kong Bird Report. I imagine that the Muli forestry officials already knew the species was there.

Jemi and I had looked around the area in Dec.2006 and thought we had narrowed down where it should be: - SIchuan 2006

Access for foreigners to some mountainous areas of West Sichuan has been blocked by the authorities since mid-March 2008, and we were not sure if we could get through. As far as I know there is no published list of places that are "forbidden", so it was hard to know, and the Travel Desk staff at Sims Cozy Garden Hostel in Chengdu weren't sure either. We decided there was only one way to find out.

We flew to Xichang in south Sichuan on April 29th and rolled up to Muli Bus Station at lunchtime on the 30th. No problem with officialdom, then.

On May 1st at Mahuang Gou we heard an unusual laughingthrush-like call, and Jemi had UTVs of a pair of them. (Postscript: Having played over the recorded calls again, we now think these were Giant Laughingthrushes.)

To cut a long story short, we met Bjorn and Nick Dymond in another part of Mahuang Gou the following day, and almost immediately a "bieti" called. A spot of playback by BA and we saw one bird in the open across a gully. A second came close behind us.

White-speckled Laughingthrush

We all got great views and what should be the first photos taken in the wild of this species.

Back-slapping and chocolate all round !

According to "A dictionary of Scientific Bird Names" by James Jobling, this creature is named after Monsignor F. Biet (1838-1901), another of the French Catholic Priest/Naturalists in West China. The original specimen was secured in 1895. Professor CHENG Hso-tsin, doyen of Chinese Ornithologists, considered it a race of Barred Laughingthrush (G. lunulatus) in his 1976 synopsis, but more recent authors have given "bieti" specific status.

As a special service for both you loyal readers of this blog, here is a comparison shot of "bieti" and "lunulatus" prepared by Jemi: -

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