Sunday, 8 May 2016

Red-billed Chough

I must have tried at least forty times to get through to the Tai Ma Lun office in Keelung Wednesday/Thursday, each time only to find the line engaged. With the new booking arrangements for the ferry placing Dongyin out of the question for the weekend (and perhaps for good), I was feeling very depressed and eager to twitch something. A late-night phone call Thursday with news of a most unlikely Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax at Ban Qiao, Taipei City, was sufficiently offbeat to get me interested. Though my initial reaction was that this bird really had to be an escape (especially as it had also apparently been present for several months), a quick bit of online research revealed records from South Korea and the discovery that they had recently recolonised Cornwall (from France?), all enough to set my imagination racing so that I figured I should really go and take an 'insurance' look at it (mindful of the unlikely possibility that a wild origin for the bird might somehow be established). Red-billed Chough certainly seemed like a bizarre one to be traded here, as colourful plumage and/or pleasant song are necessary conditions for a bird to have any kind of appeal whatsoever to a bird 'fancier' (though 'incarcerator' would be a more appropriate term). With none apparently at the nearby zoo, either, these considerations swung the decision, and I found myself on the high speed rail heading north in the direction of the bird mid-morning on Friday. The bird was easy to find following the directions I had been given, and by early afternoon it was provisionally on a list of some sort!

There were a couple of things bothering me about the bird, though, but these could easily be reasoned away. First of all, it was very approachable, and only became particularly nervous when something like a dog came on the scene. However, all the local birds were similarly confiding, and if the bird had been present at this site for several months, it would naturally have become accustomed to there being people present pretty much permanently over the course of its stay. However, it was also favouring only partially open areas under the shade of trees, slightly odd for a cliff-top field or mountainside bird, but the heat here is so intense at noon that it could be forgiven for seeking shade! What I did miss with it persistently panting was that its bill did nor close perfectly (with a slight gap between both mandibles), and also with it padding around in grass (but also because I point a camera at things far too often nowadays rather than actually looking at them) that some its claws had major deformities (something which emerged much later from examination of photographs, the most deformed claws being the right leg hindclaw and the left leg central toe).

The physical deformities unfortunately give the game away and are clear evidence of a captive origin for this bird. Sadly, then, it counts for nought (even minus one), and perhaps always should have done anyway as there would always have been lingering doubt over the origin of a bird such as this one. What it did do at least was relocate me far away from the 'lazying' comforts of home right at the start of the weekend, meaning that I could really have no excuses for not continuing on up into the mountains for the rest of it to resume battle with my year list! Above photos taken at Ban Qiao, Taipei City 6/5/16.

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