Adventures in China

Aside
My hostel in Beijing was awesome. I loved waking up in the wee hours of the morning (jet lag) and working on my computer in the common room in the dark. I was surrounded by red lanterns and goldfish tanks. They even had a koi pond complete with tiny bridge and bamboo in there.

My hostel in Beijing was awesome. I loved waking up in the wee hours of the morning (jet lag) and working on my computer in the common room in the dark. I was surrounded by red lanterns and goldfish tanks. They even had a koi pond complete with tiny bridge and bamboo in there.

  • Things that freaked me out in Beijing:
    Someone apologized for bumping into me on a bus.
    People were queueing in most subway stations.
    Only a few cars went through each red light.
    Someone slowed their car and waved me across a road.
    Traffic in Guangzhou and Hohhot, however, was properly misbehaving itself.
The train I took to/from Guangzhou is the fastest train in the world (8.5 hours to travel the equivalent of Nashville to Cuba, including stops). The air was smoggy for almost the entire ride. This was one of the worst sections. Only a couple places in the mountains and far away from urban centers had clean-looking air. :(

The train I took to/from Guangzhou is the fastest train in the world (8.5 hours to travel the equivalent of Nashville to Cuba, including stops). The air was smoggy for almost the entire ride. This was one of the worst sections (middle of the day, sunny, no fog). Only a couple places in the mountains and far away from urban centers had clean-looking air. 😦

  • Don’t use Google Maps in Guangzhou. It lies and tries to make you hop fences and cross major highways and abandoned-looking construction zones with your luggage. Couldn’t get Bing Maps or Mapquest to pull up my hostel at all. And I couldn’t get Baidu Maps (China’s version of Google) to work in English. Basically, just cross your fingers and wish real hard so you don’t spend a couple hours trying and failing to find breaks in barriers in the dark before finding a licensed taxi driver who speaks English reasonably well. FYI, there’s a subway station in Guangzhou South train station which Google failed to mention and for which no English signs exist on the level you exit the train at.
  • While walking down the street market near my hostel in Guangzhou, I noticed merchants frantically packing up their wares. I assumed the police were coming to break up people selling without licenses or something. I’d seen it happen in Beijing before, where the work migrant workers can do is restricted. But then I heard an ice cream truck playing the happy birthday song. Huh? I walked closer and the song was actually coming from a truck that was watering the plants in the planters along the walkway. Why did they pick that song to let people know to move their things? On the train back from Guangzhou, the kid in the seat behind me started singing it—in English. Huh?
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One of the fun things about traveling to different countries is trying new food. I have no idea what kind of fruit this is, but it smelled good when the woman next to me was eating it on the train to Guangzhou, so I bought some from a street vendor when I got there. Its flavor was a bit like a mild apple/pear mix.

  • It seems Mongols living on the steppes (in the Xilamuren area, at least) don’t name their animals. I wonder if it gets confusing when you try to tell people to bring “the brown horse”. (I took a trip to Inner Mongolia for fun after finishing my dissertation work.)
  • Three of the four places I slept in (not counting trains and planes) had orange and white cats. One of them liked to hang out beneath my bed and play by sticking his paw up to grab at me. Another followed me into my yurt and cuddled all night. Also licked my face a couple times. The Korean girls in there with me called her a kenyagi, which is a Korean term for a cat that behaves like a dog.
Cat #2, in Guangzhou. His name was a very onomatopoeic Aowa.

Cat #2, in Guangzhou. His name was a very onomatopoeic Aowa.

The kenyagi

Cat #3, the kenyagi

  • As of my first night back in the States, I spent each night in the last week sleeping in a different place (Guangzhou hostel, train, Xilamuren yurt, Hohhot hostel, train, plane, home). That was tiring…

Last China post! I’ll be back in about a month for Germany travels.

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Guangzhou Birds

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Sun Yat-Sen University

After working on the Maoming gator, I took a stroll through a boardwalk in some of the woods on the Sun Yat-sen University campus. There were birds calling around me, but they were partially drowned out by the cicadas. They were loud. Really loud. And at eye/ear level. Also, they sing with their butts.

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Cicada

When the birds weren’t drowned out, many of them were invisible because they were in the thick, tropical canopy. There weren’t many species of birds here (not that I saw, anyways, and it takes more time to learn to ID calls), but most of them were new to me. It was a pretty campus, just too hot and muggy. I swear the water I drank in Guangzhou skipped my digestive system entirely and just went straight out my pores.

Red-whiskered Bulbul. They were common here and have a pretty song.

Red-whiskered Bulbul. They were common here and have a pretty song.

White-rumped Munia

White-rumped Munia

Yingzhou Ecological Park

I finished working the first day and had another full day in Guangzhou, so one of the hostel workers and I went to Yingzhou Park on the other side of the river island I was staying on. Google Maps called it an Ecological Park, but it was…odd. I’m not sure what kind of park it should be called. It was a mix of nature walk, tiny zoo, and semi-abandoned kiddy park.

There was a shallow enclosure full of crabs.

There was a shallow enclosure full of a local type of crab.

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Plus a random crawdad in a pipe

Plus a random crawdad in a pipe

And a frog

And a frog

Out of nowhere, we came on this dinky dinosaur park with a kiddy train around it. This is a depiction of the famous Tenontosaurus & Deinonychus bone bed. Supposedly the herbivore was being attacked by a pack of the raptors. Originally, that was only said based on association (which could be a taphonomic artifact). I don't know if it's been re-examined to confirm that that's actually the case.

Out of nowhere, we came upon this dinky dinosaur park with a kiddy train around it. This is a depiction of the famous Tenontosaurus & Deinonychus bone bed. Supposedly the herbivore was being attacked by a pack of the raptors. Originally, that was assumed based on association (which could be a taphonomic artifact). I don’t know if it’s been re-examined to confirm if that’s actually the case. This was also the find that originally put forth the idea of dinosaurs as pack hunters (but, again, association in death does not necessarily equal association in life).

Bleahhhh!

Bleahhhh!

Next door to it was a continuation of the same habitat, but people had built little houses in there and looked like they were mostly living off the land and their chickens, though there were trash piles full of things like plastic bottles at the entrance. One couple we ran into was gathering some sort of root for stomachaches

I don't remember the name now

I don’t remember the name anymore

There were lots of butterflies in the area. I don't know what species any of them are.

There were lots of butterflies in the area. I don’t know what species any of them are.

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Butterflies are much easier to photograph than birds.

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Lots of flowers, too

Lots of flowers, too

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Hibiscus makes a tasty tisane

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Water hyacinth: not only invasive in North America

IMG_3576 IMG_3556 IMG_3566IMG_3570The park was quite pretty. There was a huge variety of plants and animals. And I finally saw an Asian Stubtail Warbler! I’ve been wanting to see one since I first saw a picture in the Thailand bird books on the way there in January. They’re a type of Old World warbler with a stubby little tail—very cute. It ran away before I could snap a photo, unfortunately. At another point, we had stopped to take a break on a bench in the shade when the sky above us was suddenly filled with swallows and martins started flying through the sky above our heads catching bugs. And I saw a White-breasted Waterhen! It also ran away and hid before I could take a picture; they’re quite shy. Lots of Japanese White-eyes flitting about (see the featured image). They’re tiny little things. About the size of the kinglets you see in the US.

Long-tailed Shrike. They're very noisy. Kind of sound like a parrot. Shrikes are fun birds because they skewer the birds they eat on sticks and barbed wire fences to eat later. Kind of like leopards stashing their prey in trees.

Long-tailed Shrike. They’re very common and noisy. Kind of sound like a parrot. Shrikes are fun birds because they skewer their prey on sticks and barbed wire fences to eat later. Kind of like leopards stashing their prey in trees.

Sooty Bulbul

Sooty Bulbul

On our way back, we stopped by her college campus near the hostel, which had a few common Tailorbirds in the trees. They were everywhere in Thailand in January.

List

Twenty birds here. A low number because of limited time and my location in the city center. But 12 of them were lifers. Not a bad run all things considered.

  1. Common Blackbird
  2. *Red-whiskered Bulbul
  3. Chinese Bulbul
  4. *Japanese White-eye
  5. Oriental Magpie-Robin
  6. *Japanese Paradise Flycatcher
  7. *White-rumped Munia
  8. *Alström’s Warbler
  9. *Long-tailed Shrike
  10. *Sooty Bulbul
  11. Barn Swallow
  12. Red-breasted Swallow
  13. *Asian House Martin
  14. Eastern Great Tit
  15. *White-breasted Waterhen
  16. *Asian Stubtail Warbler
  17. *Oriental Reed Warbler
  18. Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker
  19. *Greenish Warbler–This one wasn’t on the avibase list for Guangdong, but I don’t know of other green warblers that make a “too-wee” sound like the Northern Cardinal of North America.
  20. Common Tailorbird

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Sun Yat-Sen University

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I came here for one fossil and got two! Okay, the second one is just a set of dorsal vertebrae and a couple osteoderms. But it was still worth a few characters, even if they aren’t particularly helpful. But still, brand new specimen. Yay!

The skull is an unnamed species which was just described this year. Unfortunately, only the dorsal surface is visible and a substantial portion of it is either covered in a thin layer of matrix or the surface of the bone was accidentally prepared away. It…needs some love from a good preparator. A lot of love, actually.

It’s the first known Eocene alligatoroid in China. The only other Asian alligator that old is Krabisuchus, which I saw in Thailand in January. I really hope they can find more specimens in the future and prepare them well. Krabisuchus was only published in 2010 and before that we didn’t know there were alligatoroids in Asia in the Eocene.

Beijing Birds and Other Wildlife

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Before my first trip here, my advisor told me I wouldn’t see many birds in Beijing. Boy, was he wrong! I was only just starting to get interested in birds last time I visited, and at that point I didn’t have a field guide, so I didn’t pay much attention to birds I couldn’t easily ID. I saw a Black Swan, a Yellow Bittern, and a Common Pochard at Yuanmingyuan. And there are Eurasian Magpies everywhere here along with Rock Doves and Eurasian Tree Sparrows. That was all I got last time.

Yuanmingyuan

Big lily pads

Big lily pads

But I wasn’t going to come here again and not try for more, so the first morning after I arrived, I went birding in Yuanmingyuan (also called the Old Summer Palace) (It was cheaper to fly in a couple days before my host was here than to come in the day before. Also gave me a chance to adjust to the time zones a bit.). YMY was my favorite place in Beijing last time. There are man-made lakes filled with lotuses and ringed by giant weeping willows everywhere. There are people-heavy areas where you can do touristy things like rent a paddle boat to go out to an island, explore a maze or the ruins of an amazing giant water clock that was destroyed in a war with England, buy coconuts that they chop the tops off of and stick a straw in, or buy lotus leaf hats that look straight out of a fairy’s wardrobe. There are also less-frequented paths, though.

Something tells me the authorities here don't really pay much attention to security...

Something tells me the authorities here don’t really pay much attention to security…

I’d briefly visited some of them in 2010, but I was there with friends who were less interested in walking around the less well-kept areas. This time, those less-frequented areas are the ones I spent most of my time in. While walking around, I saw groups of people walking toward where I was with binoculars and cameras. They turned out to be the Beijing Bird Watching Society. They visit parks together every Saturday and I happened to pick the park they were going to that day!

A very small portion of the BBWS seen here. One of the fun parts about walking through YMY is the ruins that appear out of nowhere.

One of the fun parts about walking through YMY is the ruins that appear out of nowhere.

A fellow birder had recommended trying to meet local birders to me before and he was right. Birding with locals makes things so much easier. Plus you meet some fun people that way. There are quite a few birds on my list that I would of had to spend hours mulling over or not been able to ID at all if they hadn’t been there. And they knew where to go to see birds, so there would have also been many I just plain wouldn’t have seen. It turns out my five-year-old East Asia guide really isn’t up-to-date with its range maps. There were some birds we saw that, according to it, wouldn’t have been in the area this time of year. There was even one which it had listed as an accidental (no range map given at all), which the birders said was actually common in Beijing.

There was a bird map hanging on a wall to tell people where common species like to hang out.

There was a bird map hanging on a wall to tell people where common species like to hang out.

I wish Google had pulled up guides written in Chinese when I searched for them. One of them had a guide that looked much better and covered all of China. And since it had species names in both Mandarin and English, it would have been good to carry around on top of the ones I brought (I had to buy one for Beijing and one for Guangdong [intended for use in Hong Kong, so it doesn’t have range maps…blah] because there isn’t a good China-wide field guide written in English. I’d just hoped that Hohhot was close enough to where my East Asia map cuts off that there wouldn’t be birds not listed there. There ended up only being one I had to search the internet to find out about.) But they gave me a brochure of common Beijing birds and I bought another detailing the different warbler species from them (their warblers are hard to ID like our flycatchers; they all look the same). It’s in Chinese, but it has pictures and the scientific and English names, so it makes a great companion piece to my field guides.

We hit some really fun spots. The Northern Hobbies were out in force and actively feeding. We watched one pair zoom along the surface of the lake in front of us catching fish, then eating them on the wing high over our heads. One of them zoomed right toward us before veering off close to the last minute. That was cool. My camera was having a hard time focusing on them they were moving so fast. I ended up only getting one fuzzy, distant shot that wasn’t worth keeping.

Azure-winged Magpie

Azure-winged Magpie

Oriental Greenfinch

Oriental Greenfinch

White-cheeked Starling

White-cheeked Starling

Female Little Grebe

Female Little Grebe

Olive-backed Pipit. Pipits have a fun habit of wagging their butts up and down as they walk.

Olive-backed Pipit. Pipits have a fun habit of wagging their butts up and down as they walk.

Male and juvenile Little Grebe

Male and juvenile Little Grebe

Azure-winged Magpie

Azure-winged Magpie

I think this was one of the Asian Brown Flycatchers

I think this was one of the Asian Brown Flycatchers

Common Kingfisher

Common Kingfisher

A dragon lying in ruins

Sleeping Dragon

A very happy fu dog

A very happy fu dog

Baby Chinese Stripe-necked Turtle (also called Chinese Golden Thread Turtles)

Baby Chinese Stripe-necked Turtle (also called Chinese Golden Thread Turtles)

Any idea what kind of freshwater fish this is?

Some sort of snakehead

There are two fish in this picture---an eel and a tiny goby smaller than its head

There are two fish in this picture—an eel and a tiny goby smaller than its head

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One of the lotuses the park is famous for. Last time I was here it was July and most of them were in bloom. It was gorgeous.

One of the lotuses the park is famous for. Last time I was here it was July and most of them were in bloom. It was gorgeous.

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Peking University

I briefly visited the Arthur M. Sackler Art & Archeology Teaching Museum on the Peking University campus just outside YMY before heading back to the hostel.

They had a very curious way of displaying framed art. They were angled too close to horizontal. Having them in display cases would be a good thing if the cases are climate-controlled. Otherwise, it's an odd choice. I hope those fluorescent lights have UV filters on them...

They had a very curious way of displaying framed art. They were angled too close to horizontal. Having them in display cases would be a good thing if the cases are climate-controlled. Otherwise, it’s an odd choice. I hope those fluorescent lights have UV filters on them…

Some sort of female Golden Silk Orb-Weaver on the campus There were several males in her web, some the empty skins of previous mates and others hopeful mates.

Some sort of female Golden Silk Orb-Weaver on campus. There were several males in her web—some the empty skins of previous mates and others hopeful mates.

Fragrant Hills Park

Life finds a way

Life finds a way

The next place I went was Fragrant Hills. For being a montane place further away from the city center than Yuanmingyuan, it was decidedly non-birdy. I only got two lifers (Coal Tit and Yellow-bellied Warbler). The relatively small number of other species were all repeats from YMY.

It turned out to be quite fun for mammals and invertebrates, though. I was particularly excited to see a Beech Marten. It’s the third wild mustelid I’ve seen (the others being a River Otter in Florida and a Least Weasel in the middle of Washington, D.C.) I thought I was going to get to see a chase and kill when it climbed up a tree a Siberian Chipmunk was hiding in, but it seemed more interested in just hanging out and looking around. It was still lots of fun to watch.

Some sort of cute little beetle that turned to look at my camera. Any idea what it is? It's not in any group I'm familiar with.

Some sort of photogenic little beetle that turned to look at my camera. Any idea what it is? It’s not in any group I’m familiar with.

And there were three species of squirrel in the park. A brown type about the size and shape of our gray squirrels (not sure what species), a black morph of a Eurasian Red Squirrel, and Père David’s Rock Squirrels. At one point, I was sitting on a wall writing birds down in my notebook when passing people gasped and exclaimed something. I looked up and they were looking at the wall next to me. There was a Red Squirrel running at me. It stopped when I looked at it and jumped off onto the walkway, then ran a circuit around the crowd before hopping up on my other side. I assumed it was asking for food and figured I’d give the crowd a fun photo. I pulled out a grape and the squirrel took it out of my hand with absolutely no fear, then hopped into the trees to go eat it somewhere.

Pere David's Rock Squirrel. Chubby-looking little things.

Pere David’s Rock Squirrel. Chubby-looking little things.

I thought that was a one-off until another one ran up to me while I was eating lunch. It was actually so fearless that it ran up to my little grocery bag that was on the ground, put its paws up on it, and looked inside. When I offered it a grape, though, it sniffed it and ran off. It did a circuit around the path and came up on my other side just like the other squirrel. I couldn’t get my camera out in time, but it sniffed my grape and snubbed it again. By this point, a woman had walked up the path and set something green on the wall for it. But this was the most picky squirrel I’ve ever seen because he sniffed it and ran away into the trees.

Seen here: The only picky squirrel in existence

Seen here: The only picky squirrel in existence running away from food

Giant squirrel feeder. Tiny human for scale.

Giant squirrel feeder. Tiny human for scale.

Drinking water

List

I’ve included what few additional species I was able to ID on the train ride to Guangzhou here. The first 47 were in Beijing. 25 lifers (one on the train to Guangzhou)!

  1. Eurasian Magpie
  2. *Red-billed Magpie
  3. *Azure-winged Magpie
  4. cardinal-sized birds with wide heads leading to small abdomens (seen from train; not ID’ed)
  5. Eurasian Tree Sparrow
  6. Rock Dove
  7. Eurasian Collared Dove
  8. Spotted Dove
  9. Oriental Turtledove
  10. Large-billed Crow
  11. *Oriental Greenfinch
  12. *White-cheeked Starling
  13. Marsh Tit
  14. *Yellow-bellied Tit
  15. *Eastern Great Tit
  16. *Coal Tit
  17. *Willow Tit
  18. *Red-billed Chough
  19. Black-crowned Night Heron
  20. *Little Grebe
  21. Great Crested Grebe
  22. *Arctic Warbler
  23. Yellow-browed Warbler
  24. *Black-browed Reed warbler
  25. *Radde’s Warbler
  26. *Red-breasted Flycatcher
  27. Asian Brown Flycatcher
  28. Common Kingfisher
  29. Red-rumped Swallow
  30. *Northern Hobby
  31. *Amur Falcon
  32. Great Spotted Woodpecker
  33. Grey-headed Woodpecker
  34. *White-backed Woodpecker
  35. *Chestnut-flanked White-eye
  36. Common Blackbird
  37. *Chinese Bulbul
  38. White Wagtail
  39. *Olive-backed Pipit
  40. *Black-faced Bunting
  41. Chinese Pond Heron
  42. bittern sp.
  43. *Siberian Stonechat
  44. *Eyebrowed Thrush
  45. Mandarin Duck
  46. Eurasian Moorhen
  47. *Yellow-bellied Warbler
  48. Little Egret
  49. Intermediate Egret
  50. Great Egret
  51. Grey Heron
  52. Mallard
  53. *Collared Crow

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Institute for Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology

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There are three species of crocodylian at the IVPP which have previously been assigned to Alligatoroidea—Alligator luicus , Eoalligator chunyii, and E. huiningensis. E. huiningensis is known from a single partial skull and jaws. There are more specimens of E. chunyii, all at the IVPP. The holotype of A. luicus is actually at a small museum in Linqu, Shanwang Province, but a cast of the skull is kept here. I couldn’t get in contact with anyone in Linqu in time to go myself, but I’m going to be collaborating with a student at the IVPP whose project involves redescribing the species (it was only ever a short blurb). We coded all of the above together. He’ll be going to Linqu to see the A. luicus holotype—which is an entire skeleton—but it’s unfortunately embedded in resin…apparently fossils from that formation are crumbly and someone made a poor decision to preserve it that way instead of using a thin, clear layer of glue. I hope he can get some extra information out of it.

Eoalligator huiningensis. Notice the very un-alligatorine notch near the front of the snout where the big 4th dentary tooth would slide into.

Eoalligator huiningensis. Notice the very un-alligatorine notch near the front of the snout that the big tooth in the lower jaw would slide into.

I also took pictures of every Alligator sinensis skull they had (the modern Chinese Alligator) plus some dried out baby crocodylians. I’ll add them to my morphometrics analyses to increase sample size.

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Baby Chinese alligator skull

While I was there, I also looked at a jaw from an animal called Wanosuchus. It’s just the jaw, and no one’s sure quite where it belongs, so I figured why not look at it while I have the chance.

No mandibular fenestra, so not a Eusuchian, but beyond that....eh?

No mandibular fenestra, so not a Eusuchian, but beyond that….*shrug*

I headed back to Beijing to fly out at the end of my China trip. I had half a day to spend in the city before leaving for the airport. I didn’t get around to it while looking at crocodylians, but I did partial coding of Lystrosaurus youngi before I had to catch a taxi since it hasn’t been published in a good-sized phylogenetic analysis yet. Once I review all the pictures I previously took, I’ll ask my other collaborator at the IVPP (the aformentioned one’s advisor and my host during the EAPSI program) to do the remaining codings.

Lystrosaurus youngi

Lystrosaurus youngi